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SUDAN: Government withdraws troops from Juba area

NAIROBI, 14 July 2005 (IRIN) - The Sudanese armed forces have redeployed a substantial number of troops from southern Sudan in compliance with their obligations under the peace agreement, an official said on Wednesday.

"The government has withdrawn troops from the Juba area in the south earlier than the date stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA]," Mustafa Osman Ismail, Sudan's caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.

The minister added that "it was a gesture of good will" and a demonstration of the government's seriousness in implementing the peace agreement.

Peace was signed between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on 9 January, ending more than 20 years of civil war, in which an estimated two million people died and four million were displaced.

"I can confirm that the SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces] are moving troops north of the line of redeployment; it has been going on for several months now and we are confirming the details at the moment," Col Jeff Sims, chief of staff of the Joint Monitoring and Coordination Office, said.

"Under the CPA, the SAF are required to redeploy 17 percent of their troops north of the 1956 boundary within six months of the signing of the CPA," he added.

The 1956 boundary refers to the dividing line between Egyptian and British forces at the handover of Sudan during decolonisation, and coincides with the northern boundaries of the states of Western Bahr Al Ghazal, Northern Bahr Al Ghazal, Unity and Upper Nile.

Sims said another 14 percent of SAF forces had to be redeployed within six months, and all government troops were to be withdrawn from southern Sudan in two years' time.

According to the terms of the CPA, the SPLM/A has two months to redeploy 70 percent of its troops in eastern Sudan to the south of the country.

The chief public information for the United Nations Mission in Sudan, George Somerwill, told IRIN on Thursday that some SPLM/A troops had been moved into the barracks in the town of Kassala in eastern Sudan; he was unable to give an estimate of the scale of redeployment.

Meanwhile, Ismail expressed his concern over the continued insecurity in the south as a result of attacks committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group from neighbouring northern Uganda.

"The Lord's Resistance Army is a terrorist group ... it is an enemy that terrorises and kills innocent civilians in southern Sudan," the foreign minister said, and stressed the government's intention of redoubling efforts to "eradicate this dangerous group".

"The LRA is still a serious problem in the south," Somerwill said. They had carried out an attack just south of Juba less than a week ago, he said, but could not confirm the number of casualties.

"It is the responsibility of the new government of national unity," he commented. "They will do what they can to resolve the issue."

Sims said there was a great deal of banditry and criminal activity going on in the region, which was often blamed on the LRA. He emphasised the necessity of reliable investigations to confirm whether incidents were indeed attacks by the LRA.

Ismail said President Umar al-Bashir, First Vice-President John Garang, and Second Vice President Ali Uthman Taha had "started their consultations to form the government of national unity in accordance with the CPA".

"The parties - the SPLM/A and the SAF - are in discussion how to engage in the process of ensuring security in the south," Sims said.

During an inauguration ceremony in Khartoum on Saturday the leaders of the ruling National Congress Party and the SPLM/A signed the new interim constitution and took occupation of the highest seats in the government of national unity.

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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