South Sudan to withdraw police from Abyei

South Sudan has told the UN it would withdraw all its police from the disputed Abyei region.

Sudan armed men from the Sudan Liberation Movement Army (SLMA) in Gereida town, south Darfur, Sudan, 24 February 2006. Despite a May peace deal, the UN says violence and displacement have increased in the region. Picture: Derk Segaar/IRIN

JUBA - South Sudan has told the United Nations it would withdraw all its police from the disputed Abyei region, according to a letter from the country's mission to the world body.

South Sudan, embroiled in more than three weeks of border fighting with its northern neighbour Sudan, also said it was committed to an "immediate cessation of all hostilities", after the African Union ordered both parties to stop fighting.

The decision to withdraw from Abyei was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by President Salva Kiir on Saturday.

"All of these acts of peace are being done to reaffirm and demonstrate with concrete measures my government's true commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the outstanding matters with the Republic of Sudan," said the letter dated April 28 and seen by Reuters on Sunday.

The United Nations has urged Sudan and South Sudan to withdraw troops and police from the disputed region.

Both countries claim Abyei, a border region of fertile grazing land, which Khartoum took last year after a southern attack on an army convoy, triggering the exodus of tens of thousands of civilians.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July, six months after a referendum agreed under a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of civil war which killed more than two million people.

A similar vote was originally planned for Abyei, but was never held as both sides have not been able to agree on who can participate.

There are 3,800 United Nations peacekeepers in Abyei after the Security Council authorised the deployment in June last year.

Weeks of fighting along Sudan and South Sudan's 1,800 km contested border has brought the neighbours close to a full-blown war.

The conflict, which escalated after the two failed to agree on a string of disputes, has halted nearly all oil production in both countries.