KHARTOUM,(Reuters) – East Sudan insurgents said on Thursday that government troops had withdrawn from the rebel-held town they entered a day earlier and had redeployed nearby, easing tensions in the area bordering Eritrea.
“They (eastern rebels) are seeing the government forces withdrawing,” Eastern Front spokesman Ali el-Safi said.
“They have left the town but we are not sure if they are regrouping to attack again or fully withdrawing,” he added.
About 3,000 soldiers and four tanks rolled into Hamesh Koreb on Wednesday and took up positions near former southern rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), causing a stand off which may jeopardise last year’s north-south peace deal.
SPLM and Sudanese army officials could not immediately confirm the withdrawal of army soldiers from the eastern town.
During the more than two decades of north-south civil war — Africa’s longest — the SPLM reached and fought alongside separate eastern rebel groups in the province of Hamesh Koreb.
An acting SPLM military spokesman said a joint team of the Sudanese army, the SPLM and the United Nations had arrived in Hamesh Koreb to verify what was happening, but had not yet reported back. He said the situation was very tense.
“If it is not resolved then it is going to damage everything,” Elias Waya Nyipuocs said. “The (peace deal) will not be there and maybe people will go back to war.”
EAST AND WEST
Despite last year’s peace deal between Khartoum and the SPLM, conflict simmers in the east and in the western region of Darfur.
Like the insurgents in Darfur, the eastern rebels blame the central government in Khartoum for neglecting their area, which contains Sudan’s only port, the main oil pipeline carrying crude exports and Sudan’s largest gold mine.
On Wednesday, the eastern rebels said their forces in the area had been attacked by the Sudanese army in an early morning raid. The SPLM could not confirm that fighting.
Under the southern peace deal, signed in January last year, the SPLM were supposed to redeploy their forces in the east back to the south within a year, but they said this week they had been delayed for logistical reasons.
The top U.N. envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, has said the SPLM’s slow redeployment was a major problem for the peace deal.
There was no official word from Sudan, but an army source said the armed forces had done nothing wrong. “The peace deal is known. The SPLM was supposed to have withdrawn from the east within a year and that year is over,” he told Reuters.
Under the peace accord, a coalition government was formed and separate armies created for the north and south. Joint army units were formed in major towns and in the capital Khartoum.
Nyipuocs said the 1,500 SPLM troops in the Khartoum joint unit were already preparing to withdraw to their rebel camps unless the Sudanese army pulled back from Hamesh Koreb.
“The SPLM (military) command … are now taking very tough and serious measures,” he said.