Juba — South Sudan president, Salva Kiir, has issued an order for immediate withdrawal of the national army (SPLA) from its border areas with Sudan, as part of the security agreement reached with the latter on Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The president's directive, announced on the state-owned SSTV, comes two days after Sudan and South Sudan agreed on immediate and unconditional withdrawal of forces to their side within two weeks, to allow for establishment of a safe demilitarized border zone.
The two countries, according to the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), also committed themselves to the deployment of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) and the activation of all security related mechanisms from 10 March
"The president of the republic has directed withdrawal of the SPLA forces from the border areas. These instructions have been sent to the general commands for immediate implementations", Kiir said in the statement.
Both countries, under the agreement, are required to deploy their troops 10 kilometers from their current positions to their side of the border with each other, with the United Nations Interim Security Forces for Abyei (UNISFA) tasked with monitoring roles.
Last year, The inclusion of 'Mile 14' in the proposed border buffer zone caused consternation in South Sudan's Northern Bahr el Ghazal, despite the African Union and United Nations making clear that the location of the buffer zone would have no bearing on any final border settlement.
Sudan had initially proposed for the extension of the demilitarised area on the common border to include Blue Nile and South Kordofan, a proposal Juba declined to accept. The Sudanese army later claimed Juba refuses to pull out its troops from the disputed area of Mile 14.
James Hoth Mai, the SPLA chief of staff said he was aware of the president's directive, and has issued instructions for immediate implementation.
"It is true. We have received orders from the presidency. The president of the republic has directed withdrawal of the SPLA forces from the border areas with Sudan with immediate effect, but it is in the event when it is seen to be a fully coordinated exercise", said the senior army official.
He however said Kiir's order implies that as the SPLA begin to withdraw from the borders; their counterparts in the north (SAF) should equally do the same.
"It is not a one sided movement. It must be done in line with security arrangement matrix as came out in the Joint Political Security Mechanism meeting", Hoth told reporters in the capital, Juba.
The SPLA chief, did not reveal when the actual pullout of the army exercise would commence.
"We will start. The orders are being communicated through chain of command. Division commanders and commanding officers in the areas where withdrawal will take place are being informed. They are getting these orders now. We are communicating", he said.
This is itself a starting process of implementing the president's directive, Hoth added.
Philip Aguer, the SPLA spokesperson also confirmed the order, but said the army withdrawal process will be a coordinated exercise, monitored and witnessed by international observers.
"The SPLA forces will withdraw from the border areas. We will withdraw from Sirmilaka in Western Bahr el Ghazal and the Sudan armed forces will withdraw from Kafia Kinji and other areas that they occupy. They will withdraw from Teshkuin in Unity State, Joda and Magnes in Upper Nile State. It will be a coordinated and complete process", Aguer said in a statement.
Aguer further said the implementation process would be within the framework of the Joint Political Security Mechanism, which the two sides agreed upon last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"The implementation will be within the framework of the outcomes of the Joint Political Security Mechanism which calls for implementation of the security arrangement as [per the] September agreement", the SPLA spokesperson said in separate interview Sunday.