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Sudan, South Sudan agree to pull troops from demilitarized zone

By Amir Ahmed and Greg Botelho, CNN
March 9, 2013 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sudan and South Sudan will withdraw their troops from a 14-mile-wide demilitarized zone
  • The agreement was brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki
  • The deal will be implemented "word-by-word and step-by-step," a Sudanese minister says
  • South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, but disputes have persisted

(CNN) -- Sudan and South Sudan signed an agreement Friday to soon withdraw their respective military forces from a demilitarized zone between the two African countries, officials from both nations said.

Signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the deal was brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Defense ministers from both Sudan and South Sudan promised they will implement the agreement over the 14-mile-wide area later this month.

"We will be ... committed, definitely, to implement (the agreement) word-by-word and step-by-step," Sudan Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Abdal-Rahim Mohamed Hussein said.

His South Sudanese counterpart, John Koang Nyoun, promised too that his nation's forces will be pulled out of the "14 miles and other areas."

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011, following a popular referendum and a war that left nearly 2 million people dead. But the two nations have remained at odds on some issues, including defining their borders and oil exports.

The upcoming withdrawals will be monitored by the commander of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, according to the state-run Sudan News Agency, also known as SUNA.

Under a 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan's two-decade civil war, Abyei residents were to take part in a referendum on whether to join the South or remain a special administrative region within Sudan. But disputes over who was eligible to vote prevented a scheduled January 2011 referendum from going forward in the hotly disputed, 4,000-square-mile region between the two countries,

And last April, Sudan and South Sudan slipped close to all-out war in series of air and ground exchanges.

Sudan and South Sudan have been under increasing pressure from the African Union and U.N. Security Council to resolve that and other disputes peacefully.

In September, the two countries' leaders signed a deal to resume oil exports, but failed to address other issues such as the fate of Abyei.

When Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir met again in early 2013, they agreed to temporary administrative and security arrangements for the Abyei region, including the creation of a police service and a limited governing council.

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