Sudan rivals to meet on flashpoint Abyei region
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Last Updated: Saturday, May 28, 2011, 23:13
Khartoum: South Sudan's vice president flew to Khartoum on Saturday on a mission to "ease tensions" over Abyei, one week after northern troops overran the contested border region, a southern official said.

"A high-level delegation led by the vice president, Riek Machar, has gone to Khartoum," said Mangar Amerdid, a spokesman in the office of the southern president.

"It is aimed as an effort to normalise and ease tensions, and to improve the situation in Abyei," he added, but could not confirm who the southern team would meet in the north.

The surprise visit came as the northern National Congress Party and the south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) were to meet in Addis Ababa today for talks also to be attended by the African Union panel on Sudan and South Africa's former president Thabo Mbeki.

Khartoum's chief Abyei negotiator Al-Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed said yesterday that the northern government was "open" to negotiations with the south.

South Sudan leader Salva Kiir has called for a complete withdrawal of Sudanese government forces from Abyei, insisting the south did not want a return to war.

The northern troops have deployed as far south as the River Kiir, known in northern Sudan as the Bahr al-Arab, which has become the frontline between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and southern troops.

Thousands have been displaced by the fighting.

A southern Sudanese minister said more than 150,000 people have fled violence ravaging the border region and surrounding areas since May 21 when northern troops and tanks took control.

However, the United Nations says it can only confirm that up to 40,000 people are displaced.

At least 15,000 people are living in the open in Turalei, some 130 kilometres from Abyei town, according to the UN.

"The situation remains difficult," said Dominic Deng Kuoc, the commissioner for Twic county, which includes Turalei and borders Abyei. "There have just been heavy rains and the people are outside, with only trees for shelter."

Food rations were being distributed but the process was slow. "There are people still coming, many carrying little, so they all need much support," he said.

Anger remains high in the south.


First Published: Saturday, May 28, 2011, 23:13

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