/ 12 October 2010

Talks founder over future of oil-rich Sudan region

Talks Founder Over Future Of Oil Rich Sudan Region

Negotiations between north and south Sudan over the future of the contested oil-rich Abyei region have broken down ahead of an independence referendum due in January, a statement said on Tuesday.

Delegations from the north’s National Congress Party and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement failed to reach an agreement after nine days of talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the joint statement said.

“Despite serious efforts and many productive discussions, they did not succeed in reaching agreement on the eligibility criteria for voters in the Abyei area referendum,” it said.

South Sudan, which fought a two-decade civil war against the north that ended in a 2005 peace deal, is to vote on whether to secede or remain part of the country in the January 9 referendum.

Residents of the contested Abyei region, where deadly clashes broke out in May 2008 leaving tens of thousands homeless, will vote on the same day whether they want to be part of north or south Sudan.

Demarcation of Abyei’s border and the participation of the nomadic Misseriya Arab tribe in the referendum have caused disagreements between the two sides.

Abyei’s referendum law gives voting rights to members of the southern Dinka Ngok tribe, leaving it up to a referendum commission to decide which “other Sudanese” are considered residents of the region and can also vote.

The law has angered the Misseriya — a tribe that migrates each year to the Abyei region looking for pastures for their cattle — who have threatened to carry out acts of violence in the region if they are not allowed to vote.

The Addis Ababa meeting, however, agreed to “examine Abyei in the context of a larger, comprehensive approach to the upcoming referenda and post-referenda arrangements”, the joint statement said.

This will “offer an opportunity for them to not only arrive at a final status for Abyei” but also to work to address outstanding issues related to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war in the south.

The two sides agreed to resume negotiations at the end of October.

“The parties continue to commit themselves to their mutual goal of avoiding a return to conflict,” the statement added. — AFP