Sudanese authorities and officials from Southern Sudan agreed to start negotiating a cease-fire in two northern border states where fighting has threatened to spread before the south’s independence next month.
Under a “framework agreement” reached today, talks between the ruling parties in the north and south on Southern Korodfan and Blue Nile states will start tomorrow in Addis Ababa, ex-South African President Thabo Mbeki, head of an African Union panel on Sudan, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital.
The accord “puts us on the way forward to ending the conflict in South Kordofan as well as establishing a relationship that will ensure there is peace and safety and security for the populations in these areas,” Mbeki said.
Clashes between Sudanese government forces and units of Southern Sudan’s army in Southern Kordofan, northern Sudan’s only oil-producing state, has forced more than 73,000 people to flee their homes since June 5, according to the United Nations.
The fighting there and in the disputed border region of Abyei has raised concern of a return to the two-decade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer that ended in 2005. Mbeki last week mediated an accord between the north and south to withdraw their troops from Abyei and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers to deploy in the area. Sudan’s army seized the main town in Abyei on May 21.
Under the framework agreement reached today, Mbeki said the two sides decided that northern soldiers in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states who fought with the south during the civil war would be citizens of the north.
Southern Kordofan borders the oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile in Southern Sudan, which will assume control of about 75 percent of Sudan’s daily oil production of 490,000 barrels when it becomes independent on July 9. The crude is pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp.
The state accounts for about 115,000 barrels per day, according to Sudan’s minister of state for oil, Ali Ahmed Osman.
President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum accused the Southern Sudanese army of starting the violence in both Southern Kordofan and Abyei.
Authorities in Southern Sudan say the government is trying to disarm northerners in Southern Kordofan, such as members of the Nuba ethnic group, who fought with the south’s army. They accuse al-Bashir’s government of attempting to militarily occupy disputed border areas before the south’s independence.