Siege of South Sudan troops ends peacefully

JUBA, Sudan
Sep 9, 2007 (Reuters)

Sudanese government troops have agreed to end their siege of 61 south Sudanese soldiers, resolving a stand-off that risked undermining the north-south peace deal, southern officials said on Sunday.

Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops surrounded the small south Sudanese platoon on Thursday in the region of South Kordofan, accusing them of breaking the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement by bearing arms.

Kuol Diem Kuol, spokesman for the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), told Reuters the SAF troops had agreed to release the platoon late on Saturday, after mediation from the United Nations.

But Kuol said the SPLA would now consider "reciprocating" unless it received a formal apology from the national government, dominated by the ruling northern National Congress Party of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

"They lifted their siege after the intervention of UNMIS (The U.N. Mission in Sudan) based in Abyei. Our team proceeded to their destination," he said.

"I am not relieved, I am angry. This was a violation of the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement). We could reciprocate at any time. If there is no formal apology, we can reciprocate."

Sudanese state media confirmed the dispute had been resolved.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended two decades of conflict between the northern government and the former rebel SPLA. Under its terms, the south was granted semi-autonomy, allowed to keep its own army and promised a vote on secession from the north by 2011.

Both armies were also required to withdraw to their respective sides of a 1956 north-south border. The two sides have traded accusations of failing to redeploy before a July 9 deadline.

South Kordofan was one "transitional" area that the peace deal said should be patrolled by integrated north-south troops after the redeployments had been finalized. The integrated troops have so far not been formed.

On Saturday, a high-ranking official from the Sudan Armed Forces said the south Sudanese troops in south Kordofan had been caught carrying light arms north of the 1956 border, in violation of the agreement.

Kuol countered that the platoon had been composed of members of a militia that were traveling south to join the SPLA. The 2005 peace agreement ordered militias operating on both sides of the civil war to choose between joining SAF or the SPLA.


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