Middle East

Sudan, S.Sudan miss AU deadline to resolve Abyei

A May 25, 2011 handout picture released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) shows burning homes in the centre of the disputed Sudanese central town of Abyei which was overrun by President Omar al-Bashir's northern troops and tanks. AFP PHOTO/UNMIS/STUART PRICE

ADDIS ABABA: Sudan and South Sudan have failed to meet an African Union deadline to reach an agreement on the contested Abyei region by December 5, officials said Tuesday, with no talks scheduled on the issue.

The flashpoint Abyei region, a Lebanon-sized area claimed by both sides, is one of the most contentious outstanding issues after South Sudan won independence from former civil war foes in Khartoum in July 2011.

The African Union, which has been mediating talks between the rivals who fought bitter border battles in April and May, gave both sides six weeks from October 24 to reach a deal on Abyei.

AU's Peace and Security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said that the mediators for the negotiations, the AU High Level Implementation Panel, has yet to set a date for the resumption of talks.

"We are in touch with our high level panel... we will wait for recommendations," Lamamra told AFP.

Although Khartoum and Juba agreed a raft of deals on oil, security and border issues in September, no agreement could be struck on Abyei.

Under an AU proposal, a referendum on whether Abyei joins Sudan or South Sudan would give members of the Dinka, a dominant South Sudanese tribe who live in the Abyei area, the right to vote along with Sudanese with "permanent abode".

The nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, who regularly graze their animals and move through Abyei, have objected to the plan.

The AU said that if Khartoum and Juba did not resolve Abyei's status by the December 5 deadline they would be bound by the referendum proposal, which would go to the UN Security Council for endorsement.

But Khartoum expressed confidence on Tuesday that there would be no immediate action to impose a deal.

"We are satisfied from our meetings with African leaders that the (African Union's) Peace and Security Council will not transfer the proposal to the UN Security Council," Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti told reporters.

Juba's chief negotiator Pagan Amum was in Khartoum at the weekend for talks on stalled progress of the September deals, but no date for a return to the negotiating table was set.

Amum said his government was lobbying for the AU's security council "to have a meeting and take a decision to approve" the referendum proposal for Abyei.

The area is now controlled by UN peacekeepers from Ethiopia and a resident said the situation was calm there ahead of Wednesday's deadline.





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