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JAU, South Sudan: South Sudan began pulling its army out of a buffer zone with its old civil war foe Sudan yesterday and thousands of troops streamed out of this border garrison town.
The creation of a demilitarised buffer zone is seen as a crucial first step in resuming landlocked South Sudan’s oil exports through Sudan, which Juba shut off in January last year during a row with Khartoum over fees.
On Thursday, South Sudan’s petroleum minister said the oil firms had been given orders to resume production, which he estimated would take two to three weeks. Two columns of infantry carrying guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, chairs, buckets, radios, chickens and ammunition marched out of the town, a cluster of straw huts in the dusty earth by Lake Jau.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July 2011 but the two remained mired in disputes over the border, oil, debt and accusations of support for rebels in one another’s territory.
After months of tangled African Union-brokered talks, the two agreed this month to a time frame to carry out deals signed in September to set up a demilitarised border zone and restart southern oil exports through Sudan.
Yesterday, the commander of the South Sudanese army’s (SPLA) 4th division, Koang Chol, addressed thousands of troops in Jau, a garrison town South Sudan took from Sudanese troops last year. “We are implementing the orders of our government to withdraw our forces 10km south,” he said.
Tanks and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns accompanied the troops. Philip Aguer, the SPLA’s spokesman, said 3,000 soldiers pulled out, and the rest would leave today.
A few score soldiers remained behind after the main group left. Broken bicycles, playing cards and blackened teapots lay scattered on the ground. Reuters