Sudan must halt air attacks on south: US

UNSC expressed deep concern over "military incidents" between north, south.

New York: The United States on Thursday called on Sudan to halt air attacks on the border with southern Sudan ahead of the region`s tense self-determination vote.

The UN Security Council also expressed deep concern over "military incidents" between the north and south, which have heightened tensions before the January 09 referendum which is expected to lead to the breakup of Africa`s biggest nation.

"The United States calls on the government of Sudan to immediately halt aerial bombardments," said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations after Security Council talks on the Sudan vote.

The White House also joined Rice in condemning the attacks, with the National Security Council insisting that "all Sudanese leaders have a responsibility to protect civilian populations -- to do otherwise is unacceptable."

The unrest, said NSC spokesman Mike Hammer, "comes at a time that we are also seeing increased evidence of support to militant proxies from the Governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan."

Mutrif Sideeg, Sudan`s minister of state for humanitarian affairs, said the bombings on November 12, November 24 and December 06 in Bahr el Ghazal were still under investigation by a committee made up of the UN and the rival governments.

But the south has blamed President Omar al-Bashir`s government and Rice told reporters that UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy had "plainly" said it was the Khartoum military that staged the air attacks.

"The council is deeply concerned about the recent military incidents," said a Security Council statement which also expressed alarm at the lack of an accord to allow a vote in the oil-rich Abyei region alongside southern Sudan.

The votes in southern Sudan and Abyei are part a 2005 peace accord which led to the end of a two decade civil war between the north and south in which two million people died.

The international community is worried about a return to conflict around the vote and Le Roy told the Security Council "there is increasing tension on the ground" and warned that "any security incident could derail" the whole Sudan peace process.

Pagun Amum, south Sudan government`s minister of peace and secretary general of its ruling Sudan People`s Liberation Movement, told the meeting that Khartoum should consider just handing over Abyei to the south.

He said that either the referendum is held as scheduled on January 09 or Bashir`s government could "transfer Abyei to the south" by a presidential decree.

Sideeg, the Sudanese minister, reaffirmed the Khartoum government`s commitment to a peaceful referendum but said the international community and UN Security Council should "not plant seeds of suspicion and doubt" between north and south.

Voter registration for the referendum has been held in Sudan and international observers have said it was peaceful and showed "no discernible pattern of irregularities”.

After doubts raised a few months ago, diplomats have said there is increasing optimism that the referendum will go ahead on January 09, at least in southern Sudan.

The south Sudan minister said only the Bashir government would cause trouble for the vote.

"I am sure 100 percent that the voting will go very peacefully unless someone in Khartoum decides to interrupt the process," Pagun Amum told reporters. "It is not a very high probability, but of course it is there."

Bureau Report