Sudan withdraws from oil area, easing border crisis
Fri Apr 20, 2012 9:03pm GMT
* Sudan says "liberated" the area
* Thousands pour onto the streets of Khartoum
* South Sudan says air strike hit Heglig oil facility (Adds Bashir refusing
to restore oil flow)
By Ulf Laessing and Alexander Dziadosz
JUBA/KHARTOUM, April 20 (Reuters) - South Sudan said on Friday it would
withdraw its troops from the disputed Heglig oil region more than a week
after seizing it from Sudan, pulling the countries back from the brink of a
Sudan quickly declared victory, saying its armed forces had "liberated" the
area by force as thousands of people poured onto the streets of Khartoum
cheering, dancing, honking car horns and waving flags.
South Sudan's seizure of the territory had raised the prospect of two
sovereign African states waging war against each other openly for the first
time since Ethiopia fought newly independent Eritrea in 1998-2000.
Tensions have been rising since South Sudan split away from Sudan as an
independent country in July, under the terms of a 2005 settlement, taking
with it most of the country's known oil reserves.
The countries are still at loggerheads over the position of their shared
border and other disputes have already halted nearly all the oil production
that underpins both economies.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir ordered the withdrawal of his troops
within three days, the country's information minister told reporters in the
southern capital Juba.
"The Republic of South Sudan announces that SPLA (southern army) troops have
been ordered to withdraw from Panthou (Heglig)," Barnaba Marial Benjamin
Benjamin said the withdrawal was in response to appeals from world leaders
and "to create an environment for the resumption of dialogue with Sudan".
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Thursday for the South to pull
The South still believed Heglig, which many southerners call Panthou, was
its territory and wanted its status to be determined by international
arbitration, Benjamin added.
In Sudan, where television channels broadcast military-themed montages, the
defence minister said the "armed forces were able to liberate Heglig and
clear it of South Sudan's forces and mercenaries".
"The armed forces moved ... to preserve what is left of the oil facilities,"
said Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein in a speech broadcast on state
Heglig is central to Sudan's economy because, before the attack, it produced
about half of the 115,000 barrel-per-day oil output that remained in the
country after the South seceded.
The announcement of Heglig's recovery set off widespread celebrations in the
Sudanese capital, where the initial news that South Sudan had seized the
territory had come as a major shock to many.
At a rally attended by thousands, Sudan's President Bashir praised the
country's armed forces for what he described as a great victory.
"The president of the SPLM said they withdrew from Heglig. There was no
withdrawal. We went into Heglig after we beat them, and we went in by force.
Even now, they are running," he said.
"They started the war and we declare when it ends."
Tensions had been fuelled by a bitter dispute over how much the landlocked
South should pay to export oil via pipelines and other infrastructure in
Juba shut down its roughly 350,000 barrel-a-day ouput in January, accusing
Sudan of seizing some of its crude. Oil accounted for about 98 percent of
the South's state revenues.
In a speech later on Friday, Bashir further dampened hopes the two would
reach a deal in the near future, saying Sudan's oil pipelines were now
closed to the South's crude exports.
"We don't want fees from the oil of South Sudan and we will not open the
pipeline. There is no oil from South Sudan that will pass through our pure
land, so that not one dollar goes to these criminals," he said.
Rahamatalla Mohamed Osman, Sudan's undersecretary for foreign affairs, said
the two sides were still fighting in some border areas. "The war has not
ended," he told reporters.
Cars blared their horns as they rode down Khartoum's streets. People hung
out of windows waving Sudanese flags and shouting "Allahu akbar", or "God is
greatest". Some called for Kiir's downfall.
"This is the happiest day of our lives, the happiest day. Allahu akbar!"
said one man with a flag wrapped around his neck as he sat on top of a white
World powers had urged South Sudan to pull out of Heglig following the
incursion, which U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon described as an infringement of
In a sign the latest flare-up in tensions may have a lingering economic
impact, South Sudan's army spokesman Philip Aguer said Sudan had bombarded
Heglig on Thursday, causing the central processing facility to catch fire.
Sudan's state information minister Sana Hamad in turn accused South Sudan of
"intentionally" damaging Heglig's facilities, including the main electricity
The south secured its independence in a referendum promised in the 2005
peace accord that ended decades of civil war between Khartoum and the south.
Religion, ethnicity and oil fuelled the conflict that killed about 2 million
people. (Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Ulf Laessing, Hereward Holland and
Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Andrew
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Fri Apr 20 2012 - 18:02:43 EDT