South Sudan has said it will withdraw troops from an oil-rich area it seized last week that is also claimed by Sudan, easing tensions with its former civil war foe and fears of a return to all-out war.
Reading a statement from South Sudan President Salva Kiir, government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin announced the pullout of South Sudan‘s army -- the SPLA -- from the Heglig area on Friday.
Called Panthou by South Sudan, the Heglig oil field produces half of Sudan’s oil, and the international community has repeatedly called for South Sudan to withdraw as war rhetoric from Sudan has mounted.
"In conformity with the U.N. Security Council presidential statement, and in response to appeals by world leaders and to create an environment for the resumption of dialogue with Sudan, the Republic of South Sudan announces that SPLA troops have been ordered to withdraw from Panthou-Heglig," said Benjamin. "An orderly withdrawal will commence immediately and shall be completed within three days."
But Benjamin said that South Sudan’s pullout did not mean it had given up its claims to Heglig or other contested areas along the oil-rich border that has yet to be defined following southern independence in July.
He said that South Sudan expected the status of these areas to be determined by international arbitration and for Sudan to cease hostilities.
“In addition, the Republic of South Sudan calls on Sudan to immediately desist from air bombardments and ground incursions into the territory of the Republic of South Sudan," Benjamin said.
Benjamin also called on the international community to play a bigger role in resolving the outstanding issues between the two nations. The issues include how to share vast oil revenues on which both sides are heavily reliant, and divide oil-rich territory along the border.
African Union-led talks over the last nine months collapsed when border fighting started on April 1. South Sudan has said it is willing to return to negotiations if the international community gives the talks more support.
The South has said it would react if Sudan carried out threats from President Omar al-Bashir to advance and crush the southern government like an “insect."
But while the South said that its withdrawal from Heglig was not a defeat, Sudan claimed Heglig as a military victory -- a sign that the two sides are still closer to war than peace.