South Sudan has withdrawn hundreds of police from the territory of Abyei that it disputes with Sudan, a U.N. spokesman said Friday.
But the United Nations is still “verifying” the South’s claim that it has withdrawn all police from the small territory on the uncharted border between the two rivals, said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.
Abyei is one of a series of disputes between South Sudan and Sudan that has brought the two sides close to all-out war.
The U.N. Security Council and African Union have given the neighbors until next week to return to peace talks or face possible sanctions. The Sudans have already missed one U.N. deadline to halt hostilities.
Nesirky said the U.N. Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) had reports that South Sudan on Thursday “officially ordered the withdrawal of the South Sudan Police Service from Abyei.”
“Following the announcement, some 700 South Sudan police, with the U.N. mission’s logistical support, have relocated to South Sudan,” the spokesman said.
“The U.N. mission is in the process of verifying that all South Sudan police elements are withdrawn from the Abyei area.”
U.N. officials said it could take days to confirm whether all the South’s forces have left.
Sudan and South Sudan both claim the border region with fertile grazing and some oil reserves, which Khartoum’s forces seized last year. Sudan’s troops are still in Abyei.
South Sudan seceded from the north in July last year. The two sides have since been in an increasingly bitter showdown over the Abyei, the border, sharing oil wealth and who pays debts built up while they were one country.
The north and south fought a two-decade civil war up to 2005 in which more than two million people died.