Soldiers to withdraw after shooting in Sudan oil town

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM
Dec 14 (Reuters)

Soldiers caught up in fighting in Sudan's oil town of Abyei have agreed to pull out of the settlement to ease tensions, local officials and U.N. officers said on Sunday.

One soldier was killed after shooting broke out on Friday between troops and police in the disputed town, where clashes between northern and southern Sudanese forces in May raised fears for a peace deal.

Both north Sudan and the semi-autonomous south claim Abyei -- at stake is control over nearby oilfields and a key pipeline funnelling crude to Sudan's Red Sea coast.

The boundaries of the town and surrounding territory were left undecided in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.

A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity said Friday's fighting had "knocked people's confidence badly".

"We think 8,000 or 9,000 have left the town," said Abyei's secretary for public utilities Juac Agok, part of a temporary north-south administration set up under the same roadmap agreement.

"In itself it was a small incident. But it has caused a lot of tensions because of what happened in May," he told Reuters in a phone interview.

In May, scores were killed and more than 50,000 left homeless when northern and southern armies fought in the town, burning the settlement to the ground.

Both sides pulled their troops out of the town after the clashes, and agreed to replace them with joint police and military units made up of northerners and southerners, as part of a road map peace agreement.

Agok and the U.N. officer said commanders of the joint military unit had agreed to pull out to a camp outside the settlement in the next seven days, leaving the integrated police unit in charge.

"When people clash, it is better to separate them ... to minimise the chance of further clashes," said Agok.

They said there would be an investigation into what sparked Friday's shooting.

Police told Reuters the shooting started after a northern soldier in the joint military unit got into an argument with a trader in the town's market and police tried to intervene.

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