Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sudanese army withdraws from eastern rebel-held town near Eritrean border

Associated Press report January 14, 2006 confirms Sudan withdrew some 1,000 troops from an eastern rebel-held town, defusing a stand off between the Sudanese army and former southern guerrillas in the first test of a year-old peace deal, ex-rebels said on Saturday. Excerpt:

The troops entered Hamesh Koreb town on Wednesday, threatened to expel the former southern rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) and set up positions just 200 metres (yards) from SPLM trenches. They later withdrew when a U.N. investigation team arrived, the SPLM said.

"I am now seeing approximately two battalions about 500 metres from the town," SPLM officer Benjamin Wol, a member of the joint U.N.-Sudan army-SPLM team, told Reuters from Hamesh Koreb, which borders Eritrea.

Note the report says under the southern deal, the SPLM were supposed to have redeployed from the east to the south within a year, but they said this week they were unable to meet that deadline because of logistical reasons.

Pronk said slow withdrawal was a major problem to the peace deal. On Friday he said: "This is creating a void with a potential for new armed conflict."

The Sudanese army is supposed to occupy SPLM positions once they have withdrawn. But eastern rebels, also in the same areas, say the government will have to fight them first.

"If they want to replace the SPLM they will have to fight and expel the eastern troops first," said Eastern Front spokesman Ali el-Safi. The Eastern Front contains both eastern rebel groups and the main political parties.

Libyan-mediated east Sudan peace talks were due to start after Jan. 17, the rebel said. Safi said the government entered Hamesh Koreb because they wanted a military solution rather than negotiated talks.

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