JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — South Sudan is on target to meet a deadline to withdraw troops from the border with Sudan, after thousands of SPLA soldiers took their weapons and left the contested frontier at the weekend, a spokesman for the South Sudanese army said.
“The withdrawal from Jau has been completed and the SPLA is 10 kilometres south of the buffer zone," SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said.
Three thousand soldiers were pulled out of Jau, and another 3,000 each withdrew from Kiir Adem and Warguet, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Aguer said.
The pull-out comes after Sudan and South Sudan’s defense ministers sealed a deal this month on a timetable to withdraw troops from all disputed border areas by March 24.
A demilitarized buffer zone will be set up along the border, and will be patrolled by nearly 900 troops from the U.N. force in Abyei, an oil-rich area on the border of the two Sudans, to which both sides have staked a claim.
Sudan has completed the withdrawal of its troops from the border, an official said on television.
A local who saw the SPLA troops pull out said they left with all their weapons and were accompanied by tanks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns.
Aguer says thousands more troops will be withdrawn from disputed areas in Upper Nile and Western Bahr al Ghazal states over the weekend, and by "the 24th of this month, all the SPLA forces will be out of the buffer zone.”
A force, which will eventually be composed of 90 monitors from each side, is expected to patrol the border to verify that both Sudan and South Sudan are pulling out troops.
Aguer said that the U.N. troops were not yet in place.
"We expected them to be in Jau so that they could verify the SPLA withdrawing. And we are still waiting for them to come and see where the SPLA withdrew to,” he said.
The troop withdrawal is the latest step that the two sides have taken toward fubakkt implementing a series of agreements signed last September.
Last week, Juba and Khartoum hammered out a timeline for acting on all nine agreements signed in September.
Once the border area has been demilitarized, 10 border crossings are expected to be opened between the two countries.
Locals fear the pullout could create a security vacuum, with less than a thousand U.N.-mandated troops taking over where tens of thousands of South Sudanese and Sudanese troops left off.