KHARTOUM (AFP) – Khartoum’s chief Abyei negotiator has said the northern government is “open” to negotiations with south Sudan over the contested border region and announced talks will resume on Saturday.
“We are open to negotiations,” Al-Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed, the National Congress Party’s chief negotiator on Abyei, told AFP.
Dirdiri said the NCP and the south Sudan People’s Liberation Movement would meet in Addis Ababa on Saturday for talks that will also be attended by the African Union panel on Sudan and former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
“We hope that we will reach a compromise on a number of points,” Dirdiri said, adding that indirect negotiations were already under way between the two sides through the African Union panel on Sudan and the United Nations.
The SPLM on Friday said that they too wanted to resume talks but could not confirm their start date.
“Definitely there will be more talks between the SPLM and NCP,” said Atif Keer, a senior staff member on the team of secretary general Pagan Amum, who heads the SPLM negotiations.
“It has not been communicated exactly when the next round will start, but the negotiations will continue,” he said.
A southern Sudanese minister said Friday meanwhile that more than 150,000 people have fled violence ravaging the fertile border region and surrounding areas since May 21 when northern troops and tanks overran Abyei.
“The situation is terrible — over 150,000 have fled Abyei and the areas around,” said James Kok Ruea, the south?s humanitarian affairs minister.
Southern President Salva Kiir, who is also vice-president for all of Sudan, said on Thursday he was hopeful that a resolution can be found for the final steps of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the 2005 deal that ended over two-decades civil war.
“We still believe we will resolve all the CPA provisions by peaceful means,” Kiir said.
Abyei’s future is the most sensitive of a raft of issues that the two sides had been struggling to reach agreement on before the south’s full independence in July.
The northern troops have deployed as far south as the River Kiir, known in northern Sudan as Bahr al-Arab, which has become the front line between the Sudanese Armed Forces and southern troops.
Dirdiri said the SAF moved to the “northern part of Abyei area, till the northern bank of the river to drive out” forces of south Sudan People’s Liberation Movement from the disputed area.
“Their presence is definitely equal to our presence,” he said.
“We are now requesting the UNMIS (United Nations Mission in Sudan) to continue negotiating with SPLM their full withdrawal from the area as per the Kadugli agreement,” he said.
He added that northern troops will not withdraw until “robust mechanisms” were in place to prevent the south Sudan People’s Liberation Army or “any of its militias” from infiltrating the area.
But Dirdiri said there was “enough ground to arrive at a solution” given the number of agreements signed between the two sides and that the issue “should be solved before the 9th of July” when south Sudan is due to become independent.
Abyei was due to vote on its future in January alongside a referendum that delivered a landslide for secession but the plebiscite was indefinitely delayed amid arguments on voter eligibility.
Analysts fear Abyei’s capture in the run-up to international recognition of southern independence could tip the two sides back to civil war.