January 9 set for northern troops to quit S. Sudan

4 Jan 2008 (Reuters)

Sudanese officials have set a January 9 deadline for northern armed forces to quit the semi-autonomous south after they missed a third redeployment deadline on Monday, southern official Elias Waya said.

Sudan's northern forces missed the December 31 deadline following on-off fighting last month between former southern rebels and northern militia forces in the country's north-south boundary area and months of political wrangling.

"Now, it is before January 9," Waya, both a major general in the former rebel southern army and a member of a joint north-south defence body, said on Friday.

"All the time they agree, but when the time comes they will give excuses."

The redeployment is part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended over two decades of north-south Sudanese civil war in which 2 million people died and 4 million were displaced in a conflict fought over ideology and ethnicity, and fuelled by oil.

The former southern rebel movement that now controls the south Sudan government pulled its ministers out of a national coalition government in October, saying Khartoum was failing to implement measures of the 2005 deal that ended Africa's longest civil war.

One major complaint was the failure of northern troops to quit the south by an initial July 9 redeployment date. Crisis talks between the two sides first set a new deadline for December 15. Further talks moved the date to the end of 2007.

Southern officials accuse northern forces of remaining in southern oil areas to retain control of Sudan's main export. Khartoum has said it has only 3,600 troops in the south, while south Sudan President Salva Kiir has put the figure at 17,000.

A Sudanese army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Waya told Reuters on Thursday that northern army officials had earlier said transport problems caused the missed deadline but were now citing the lack of special integrated units of northern and southern soldiers in the oil areas.

Under the peace deal, the joint units are to patrol the area's that produce Sudan's vital 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

"(Their) transport and equipment are really very weak," Waya said, adding that was why the units had not reached the oil areas earlier.

He said the U.N. mission in Sudan has agreed to airlift three battalions from three parts of the south into oil areas, which would leave some 10,000 joint units concentrated in the south's two main oil states.

"These are enough. There is no security threat in the area," Waya said, adding that the integrated soldiers are only responsible for "outer circle" security, with state police and security guarding actual machinery and wells.

Fighting between northern militias and the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army on the border killed dozens of people in late December, although the situation has since calmed.



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