JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - South Sudan and Sudan will begin this week pulling back troops from their disputed border to create a demilitarized zone as called for in a months-old agreement aimed at bringing lasting peace to the Sudans.
The South Sudanese Army, the SPLA, said South Sudan will begin withdrawing troops from border areas this week, after receiving an order to do so from President Salva Kiir.
“Within four days [South Sudanese troops] will be able to pack all their equipment and prepare to start to the designated area – that is 10 kilometers away from the buffer zone,” SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said.
The Sudanese Armed Forces said Sunday that it would withdraw its troops to positions 10 kilometers to the north of the border, and welcomed the reciprocal move by Juba.
Establishing a demilitarized area near the border is a key first step toward demarcating the border between the Sudans, and was a key point in a cooperation agreement signed last year by leaders of both countries.
The agreement, signed in September, was never implemented and South Sudan has often complained of attacks on its territory by the Sudanese army since its signing.
Aguer said that although the SPLA will pull back to create the buffer zone as called for in the agreement, it will defend South Sudan against any incursions by Sudan.
He also said that "the AU and the rest of the international community will be monitoring" activity in the border zone.
The border and other issues, including how to share oil wealth between the two Sudans, have been hot-button, unresolved issues for Juba and Khartoum since the south became independent from Sudan in July 2011.
In January 2012, South Sudan shut down oil production -- a key source of revenue for the south and north -- amid a dispute with the north over fees to transport crude from the south to export terminals in the north, via pipelines controlled by Sudan.
In April last year, the south seized control of the border town of Heglig, nearly plunging the two countries back into war.
The once-unified Sudans fought a 22-year civil war that ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in 2005.