African Union envoy Mbeki in Sudan aiming for peace deal

Published Friday, May 18, 2012

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to attempt to restart negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan.

The African Union's mediator is due to meet Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to try to set out an agenda and timetable for talks.

On Thursday the UN Security Council demanded Sudan immediately and unconditionally withdraw troops from the disputed Abyei border region but Khartoum pledged only to do so after a joint military observer body was created for the area.

The 15-member council renewed a UN peacekeeping mission in Abyei, a region containing fertile grazing land that is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, and expressed deep concern at delays in establishing an Abyei Area Administration.

Khartoum took Abyei in May last year - triggering the exodus of tens of thousands of civilians - after an attack on a Sudanese army convoy from the south.

There are 3,800 Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei after the council initially authorized the deployment last June.

South Sudan withdrew its 700-strong police force from Abyei last week but Sudan's deputy UN envoy, Idris Ismail Faragalla Hassan, on Thursday criticized the move as the wrong approach.

"The withdrawal should take place simultaneously and it should be monitored by a body agreed upon by the two parties," Hassan told reporters.

"What happened is that the government of South Sudan took a piecemeal approach, not the comprehensive approach that the government of Sudan is calling for."

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July, six months after a referendum agreed under a 2005 peace deal, ending decades of civil war that killed more than 2 million people.

A referendum also had been planned for Abyei to decide if it would join the north or the south but was never held because the sides cannot agree on who can participate.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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