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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sudan deal reported but talks run into extra time over disputed Abyei

Addis Ababa
Talks on Sudan dragged into a third day Tuesday as delegations from the rival north and south thrashed out sticking points after a reported agreement that northern troops would leave disputed Abyei.

Sudan President Omar Al Bashir left Addis Ababa Monday night but members of his delegation stayed behind to iron out remaining points of contention, officials said.

His counterpart from the south, Salva Kiir, who met briefly Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States before her early departure, had also left and was believed to be back in the south Sudan capital Juba, an aide said.

The two leaders appeared to have reached a broad agreement on the future of Abyei district but left the thorny details for their delegations to hammer out.
On Monday, when the closed-door talks were described as tense, a southern minister said Khartoum was ready to pull its troops out of Abyei after sending them into the flashpoint border district on May 21.

Mrs. Clinton meantime urged both sides to accept Ethiopian peacekeepers while a Sudanese rights group accused the north of pursuing a genocidal campaign in the nearby region of South Kordofan.

“We have information that they (the north) have accepted to withdraw from Abyei as long as they agree on the specific arrangement with regards to the Abyei administration,” south Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told the independent Sudan Radio Service.

The north was willing to discuss what forces would replace its Sudanese Armed forces (SAF) in the area, Benjamin said, adding: “I think they have accepted the principle that they have to withdraw.”

Northern troops overran Abyei in response to an attack on a convoy of SAF troops and UN peacekeepers, sparking violence that prompted more than 100,000 people to flee, according to UN estimates.

Mrs. Clinton on Monday endorsed the idea of a peacekeeping force in Abyei and encouraged both sides to take up an Ethiopian offer of troops.

She did not meet Mr. Bashir who is wanted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Bashir refuses to recognize the court’s authority.

President Bashir and Mr. Kiir started talks Sunday to resolve the crises in Abyei and South Kordofan, the north’s only oil-producing state, a month before southern Sudan is to proclaim full independence on July 9.

Its independence falls under a peace deal after decades of deadly conflict between the north and south, but could be overshadowed by the latest fighting, particularly if the southern army is drawn in.

The future status of Abyei remains the most sensitive issue dividing the two sides.

The talks came as the United Nations confirmed that the fighting in South Kordofan had spilled into the south.

The Sudan Democracy First Group (SDGP) rights group meanwhile accused the northern Sudanese army of pursuing genocidal campaign in South Kordofan, targeting the indigenous Nuba peoples and helped by militia forces.

UNICEF Sudan Representative Nils Kastberg said all sides in the various conflicts in Sudan had shown a “total lack of respect for international humanitarian principles.”

The UN refugee agency asked Tuesday for access to South Kordofan, as UN aid agencies said their premises had been looted.

“We are appealing to authorities in Kadugli, capital of the state of South Kordofan in Sudan, as well as to the central government in Khartoum to allow air and road access for humanitarian agencies,” said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

Planes have been denied authorization to land and roadblocks were hampering access by land, she said.

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