Sudanese troops have left Abyei, a disputed region on the border with South Sudan, the state-linked Sudanese Media Centre said on Tuesday, citing military officials.
“The armed forces implemented their deployment outside the Abyei region this afternoon,” the report said, adding that Sudan’s military had also handed over facilities to U.N. peacekeepers stationed there.
After Sudan and South Sudan came to the brink of all-out war in April, the U.N. Security Council called on them to cease hostilities along their disputed border and to resume talks on a number of issues including the status of Abyei.
But the pullout from Abyei is unlikely to ease tensions between the two neighbors as South Sudan accused Sudan of launching fresh bombing raids on its territory on Tuesday.
The reports, which could not be confirmed independently, came hours before the neighbours sat down to their first direct negotiations since a series of clashes broke out along their disputed border in April.
As officials gathered for the discussions in Ethiopia, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, information minister for newly-independent South Sudan, told reporters Sudanese war planes had continued bombing raids that started over the weekend.
“Today the Sudan armed forces are still bombing in Warguet area (Northern Bahr el Ghazal),” he said in the southern capital Juba.
“Maybe they want to negotiate from a position of strength as they usually do. This is not the first time they have done it.”
Sudan’s army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid was not immediately available to comment, but the government routinely denies bombing the South.
South Sudan split away from Sudan in July last year without settling a string of bitter disputes over the position of their shared border, oil transit fees, the ownership if disputed territories and other issues.
Both countries’ oil-dependent economies have also suffered since the split. Adding to the gloom, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said Sudan’s economy faced “daunting” challenges and needed to bring in emergency measures to stabilize it.
Diplomats at the African Union-backed negotiations in Addis Ababa were not holding out much hope for a quick, comprehensive settlement.
“The main thing is that you are talking again, but expectations are very low ... At best, they will discuss a roadmap,” said one western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Years of tortuous negotiations and huge international pressure have done little to wipe out the deep distrust between the two countries left by decades of conflict.
Past negotiations between Sudan and fighters in other parts of the country - including Darfur - have often been marked by reports of last minute fighting, as the sides try to maximize territorial gains.