Sudanese president warns rebels in border dispute

Jan 14, 2004 (dpa)

Sudanese president Omer Bashir Wednesday issued a warning to the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) over the contentious issue of the administration of three disputed areas of Sudan, according to media reports.

Speaking at a press conference in the Northern Sudan town of Merowe, Bashir warned the SPLA that the government would not tolerate attempts to expand the southern Sudanese border to include areas in the north.

Despite recent advances in relations between the two sides, including last week's signing of a wealth-sharing pact, growing demands by southern rebels to extend the contested Abyei region to the town of Northern Bahr El Gazal were reported to have angered Bashir.

Years of conflict in Sudan between the Christian and Animist south and mainly Moslem north have devastated the country. The two sides have agreed the south should be autonomous for six years, after which a referendum on independence will be held.

But the three disputed areas - the Nuba Mountains, the southern Blue Nile and the Abyei region - remain a serious bone of contention between the factions.

While peace talks in Kenya have brought an end to 20 years of bloodshed, the SPLA are still lobbying for the three areas to be included in the autonomous region.

Negotiations on the disputed areas between the government and the rebels have begun under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a cross-border body with members drawn from seven Horn of Africa countries.

However Bashir's hardline stance and his statement that his government agreed to the talks just to encourage the rebels may threaten the peace process, analysts said.