South Sudan withdraws from Heglig

2012-04-21 15:35

South Sudan said on Friday it would withdraw its troops from the disputed Heglig oil region more than a week after seizing it from Sudan, pulling the countries back from the brink of a full-blown war.

Sudan quickly declared victory, saying its armed forces had “liberated” the area by force as thousands of people poured on to the streets of Khartoum cheering, dancing, hooting and waving flags.

South Sudan’s seizure of the territory had raised the prospect of the two sovereign African states waging war against each other openly for the first time since Ethiopia fought newly independent Eritrea between1998 and 2000.

In a teleconference this week with City Press, the US special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, said the situation was “very dangerous”.

“This is a wider conflict than simply the border between South Sudan and Sudan,” he said.

He confirmed that former president Thabo Mbeki was shuttling between Khartoum and Juba, the capitals of Sudan and South Sudan, to bring an end to the fighting.

On April 10, South Sudan unilaterally invaded the Heglig oilfields, taking its troop into Sudanese territory.

Sudan started its fightback on Monday with air raids. South Sudan has very little air force capabilities, rendering its soldiers defenceless in such a crisis.

South Sudan justified its taking over of Heglig by referring to Sudan’s attacks on South Sudanese people in the provinces of Blue Nile and South Kardofan.

Lyman said China was asked to assist to bring an end to the violence.

Tensions have been rising since South Sudan split away from Sudan as an independent country in July under the terms of a 2005 settlement, taking with it most of the country’s known oil reserves.

The countries are still at loggerheads over the position of their shared border and other disputes have already halted nearly all the oil production that underpins both economies.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir ordered on Friday the withdrawal of his troops within three days. Spokesperson for the president Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the withdrawal was in response to appeals from world leaders and “to create an environment for the resumption of dialogue with Sudan”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Thursday for the South to pull out.

The announcement of Heglig’s recovery set off widespread celebrations in the Sudanese capital, where the initial news that South Sudan had seized the territory came as a major shock to many.
At a rally attended by thousands, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir praised the country’s armed forces for what he described as a great victory.

In a speech later on Friday, Bashir further dampened hopes that the two would reach a deal in the near future, saying Sudan’s oil pipelines were now closed to the South’s crude exports.

“We don’t want fees from the oil of South Sudan and we will not open the pipeline. There is no oil from South Sudan that will pass through our pure land, so that not one dollar goes to these criminals,” he said.

World powers had urged South Sudan to pull out of Heglig following the incursion, which UN chief Ban Ki-moon described as an infringement of Sudan’s sovereignty.

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