By Ian Timberlake
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan says it is ready to pull its soldiers out of the contested Abyei region, former US president Jimmy Carter said after meeting Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir on Sunday.
“He has notified the negotiators he’s ready to withdraw troops from Abyei, which we believe is a major step forward,” Carter told reporters after he and Algeria’s former foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi held talks with the Sudanese president.
The two met Bashir as members of The Elders, a group of global leaders chaired by Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, ahead of a planned resumption of talks between Sudan and South Sudan on Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
After the two nations came to the brink of all-out war in April, the UN 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.
Sudan occupied the Abyei area one year ago.
The United Nations resolution said both sides had to pull their forces out by May 16.
South Sudan complied, but Sudan said it would withdraw only after a joint administrative body is established.
Asked whether Bashir had revised that condition, Carter said: “He did not express to us any reservations or provisos.”
South Sudan says Khartoum is blocking the creation of the joint administration.
Bashir told the two Elders that he notified Thabo Mbeki, the African Union mediator for the talks between Sudan and South Sudan, of his readiness to withdraw his forces.
Carter said “there are very few troops left there”.
Abyei was to hold a referendum in January 2011 on whether it belonged with the north or South but that ballot was stalled over disagreement on who could vote.
After a similar ballot, South Sudan separated last July under a 2005 peace deal that ended 22 years of civil war.
But critical issues including Abyei were unresolved at separation.
The issues — which the UN said should be resolved during three months of talks — also include oil payments, the status of each country’s citizens resident in the other, and resolution of disputed and “claimed” border areas as well as demarcation of the frontier.
Carter said The Elders “fully support” the efforts of Mbeki, the AU and the United Nations, as well as the Arab League.
“And we urged President Bashir to pursue these opportunities with great attention,” Carter said, adding that Bashir assured them of his commitment “to participate in any opportunity through negotiation to bring a resolution of differences”.
The Elders plan to visit the South Sudanese capital Juba, and Addis Ababa, in coming weeks.
Their Khartoum stop came as official media reported that Sudan had complained to the UN Security Council over alleged “aggression” by the South.
The complaint filed by Sudan’s UN ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, accused South Sudan of cross-border incursions over the previous eight days, violating the May 2 Security Council resolution that called on both sides to cease hostilities, the official SUNA news agency reported.
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