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No Deal in Talks on Sudan's Disputed Abyei Region

Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa 12 October 2010

The US-mediated talks between north and south Sudan on the disputed Abyei region have ended in deadlock. Frantic diplomatic efforts are on to try to salvage the 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan's 20 year civil war.

Sudanese Vice P resident Ali Osman Taha was reported flying from Khartoum to the southern capital, Juba Tuesday for urgent talks with Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kir.

The hastily-arranged meeting comes after nine days of talks in Addis Ababa on the future of the hotly contested Abyei region ended in apparent failure. As he left the Addis Ababa talks Tuesday morning, Southern People's Liberation Movement leader Pagan Amum blamed the country's ruling National Congress Party for the failure.

"We have been here for nine days to discuss removing obstacles facing implementation of the Abyei protocol," said Amum. "These talks have failed to reach any agreement, unfortunately, despite the hard work exerted by the mediator, General Scott Gration with his team."

A joint statement by the SPLM and the Khartoum government after Tuesday's breakdown said the talks 'did not succeed in reaching agreement on the eligibility criteria for voters' in a referendum to determine whether Abyei goes north or south in the likely event the south votes to secede in January.

The statement said the parties "continue to commit themselves to their mutual goal of avoiding a return to conflict", and said another meeting would be held in Ethiopia later this month.

But SPLM Secretary-General Amum told VOA that with less than 90 days remaining until a scheduled referendum on southern secession, the entire process is in danger of collapse.

"We are left with 90 days, the time is very critical, and if the parties fail to sort out these issues, this could lead to an end of the peace process itself and the peace may unravel in the Sudan," added Amum.

The main issue over the past few days of talks has been a U.S. proposal that would avoid the potentially disruptive referendum on Abyei's status through an advance deal on borders and citizenship issues. But southern delegates speaking privately to VOA say while the deal sounds good in principle, the details leave too much of Abyei's resources in the hands of the north.

Part of the dispute centers on dividing the region's oil resources, but a bigger issue appears to be the citizenship of a northern-allied nomadic tribe that grazes its cattle in Abyei for part of the year.

Diplomats close to the talks say the next round will include the three parties involved in this round, along with the African Union special envoy on Sudan, former South African president Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are said to be playing important behind-the-scenes roles in trying to bring the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion.



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