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No deal in Sudan, South Sudan talks on flashpoint enclave

Talks between Sudan and South Sudan over the disputed flashpoint region of Abyei made no progress

AFP , Tuesday 22 Oct 2013
South Sudan
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (L), with Omar al-Bashir, the President of the Republic of Sudan (R), addresses a gathering of the Southern Sudan Council of Ministers in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (Photo: AP)
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The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan said talks Tuesday were "fruitful", but made no hoped-for announcement of a breakthrough on the disputed flashpoint region of Abyei.

"We are ready to go the extra mile to make peace with Sudan," South Sudan's President Salva Kiir told his northern counterpart and former civil war foe Omar al-Bashir, who visited South Sudan's capital Juba in the latest push to tackle a raft of issues left unresolved when the formerly unified nation split two years ago.

Tensions have been mounting over disputed Abyei, a war-ravaged region wedged between the two countries and claimed by both sides, with the African Union urging leaders to "seize the opportunity" to find a deal.

But while Kiir said Abyei was the "most critical" issue discussed, little concrete progress was announced.

"The meeting with my brother Salva Kiir was fruitful.... We will make sure all the outstanding issues are implemented," Bashir said.

Kiir warmly welcomed Bashir, an indicted war crimes suspect wanted by the International Criminal Court.

The leaders, who were bitter enemies during the two-decade civil war that led to South Sudan's independence in July 2011, embraced as they met.

Abyei was meant to vote on whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan in January 2011 -- the same day Juba voted overwhelmingly to split from the north -- as part of the 2005 peace deal which ended Sudan's civil war.

But that referendum has been repeatedly stalled, with residents now threatening to press ahead and organise their own vote.

The United Nations and AU have warned that any such unilateral move could inflame tensions in the oil-producing zone and risk destabilising the uneasy peace between the longtime foes.

Many are gloomy for a quick resolution.

"I think there isn't a solution in sight for quite a long time," a Western diplomat said, but added there was a need at least to show some progress, "otherwise people get desperate."

Abyei, patrolled by about 4,000 Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers, is home to the settled Ngok Dinka, closely connected to South Sudan, as well the semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya, who traditionally move back and forth between the two countries grazing their cattle.

"Both governments have important constituencies that they need to pacify," making the issue very difficult to solve, the diplomat said.

Senior leaders of the Ngok Dinka said last week they will organise and run their own referendum, saying international efforts had stalled and there was "no light at the end of the tunnel".

In response, Misseriya chief Mukhtar Babo Nimir said the Dinka move must be blocked, warning that his people also have the option of holding their own unilateral ballot.

Trade, security and oil issues were also on the presidents' agenda for the one-day visit, with more than 50 officials including senior ministers and businessmen accompanying Bashir.

Bashir and Kiir had met for talks in Sudan last month, while Bashir last visited South Sudan in April, his first visit since independence and which followed a furious row over the shutdown of crucial oil exports as well as bloody border battles last year.

When South Sudan split away, it took with it oil fields accounting for 75 percent of the reserves -- with production totalling some 470,000 barrels per day -- that Sudan used to call its own.

Landlocked South Sudan complained that the north was demanding too much to use its pipelines and port facilities, and the shutdown cost both countries billions of dollars.

Battles along the two nations' un-demarcated border last year involving warplanes and troops then aggravated the situation and raised fears of a return to the level of violence seen in the 1983-2005 civil war.

International pressure eventually reined the two sides back in, with leaders signing a raft of deals, most of which however are yet to be implemented.

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