North and south Sudan agree to 20 km buffer zone

North and south Sudan are required to withdraw their forces 10 km on either side of the border.

Addis Ababa: North and south Sudan agreed on Wednesday to create a demilitarised buffer zone along their common border just days before the country splits, the Africa Union said, but no ceasefire has yet been reached in South Kordofan.

Wednesday`s accord, signed in Addis Ababa and overseen by the chief African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, requires both sides to withdraw their forces 10 kilometres (six miles) on either side of the border before the formal independence of the south on July 09, an AU statement read.

"The agreement ... is another building block for ensuring stability and unhindered development along the common border between north and south Sudan," the statement said.

Unarmed observers from both sides will work with UN observers to make sure the agreement is observed, and scattered checkpoints will be manned by Ethiopian peacekeepers.

This follows a recent agreement for the north to pull its troops out of the contested Abyei region, and a deal signed on Tuesday in which the two sides pledged to resolve their differences in the northern state of South Kordofan, where government forces are battling pro-south militia.

But Nafie Ali Nafie, Sudan`s top presidential adviser and a signatory to Tuesday`s framework accord, told reporters in Khartoum on his return from negotiations in Ethiopia that no ceasefire has been agreed.

"We didn`t agree on stopping the hostilities in South Kordofan. But we have created a joint military committee that is going to meet in Addis Ababa next week," he said.

The conflict in Sudan`s central border region has dramatically escalated tensions between north and south in the run-up to southern independence.

Although reliable casualty figures are hard to obtain because of heavy restrictions on the movement of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, diplomats say the numbers could run into the hundreds.

Nafie said that despite the agreement to establish a demilitarised buffer zone, the two parties have yet to finalise the demarcation of the border itself, which is more than 2,000 kilometres long and remains disputed in a number of places.

On Monday, the UN Security Council ordered a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to Abyei to monitor the withdrawal of northern troops who occupied the disputed border region on May 21.

Bureau Report

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