JUBA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan said it would not withdraw its army from the disputed Abyei region by Friday as expected by the United Nations, triggering sharp criticism by its former civil war foe South Sudan.
A senior U.N. official said earlier this month Khartoum had agreed with newly-independent South Sudan at talks in Ethiopia to pull out by Friday from Abyei which both sides claim.
Sudan’s army took Abyei in May in a show of force which triggered an exodus of more than 100,000 civilians after the southern army attacked an army convoy.
On Friday, the Sudanese army said it would stay in Abyei beyond September until U.N. peacekeepers being sent from Ethiopia to observe a ceasefire were fully deployed.
“We are not against a withdrawal but we are waiting for the complete deployment of the Ethiopian troops. So far only half of the Ethiopian troops are on the ground,” said army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad.
“A withdrawal without the complete deployment of the Ethiopian troops would disrupt Abyei’s administration. The (Ethiopia) agreement says the withdrawal will come after the complete (U.N.) deployment,” he said.
The U.N. said the agreement was to pull the forces out.
“We urge the parties to implement the agreement they reached early this month and to withdraw their forces from the Abyei area so as to facilitate the return of the displaced population and ensure the smooth beginning of the migration season,” Martin Nesirky, spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said in New York.
South Sudan said Khartoum had no intention at all of withdrawing from Abyei and was trying to prevent civilians returning to the region which contains fertile grazing land.
South Sudan’s army, or SPLA, said it had withdrawn all forces from Abyei which also has some small oil reserves.
Khartoum had on Friday for the second time cancelled a meeting of a joint Abyei commission in charge of running the disputed region, said Luka Biong Deng, South Sudan’s co-chair of the commission.
This “confirming suspicions that all along, its (Khartoum’s) primary concern is not to withdraw its forces from Abyei area...but in continuing its occupation and ensuring that the area’s true residents never return,” Deng said in a statement.
South Sudan seceded in July after an independence vote in January agreed under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war that killed more than two million people.
Such a vote was originally also planned in Abyei but was never held as both sides are unable to agree who can participate.