U.S. suspends talks with Sudan over oil town row

By Andrew Heavens

3 June, 2008 (Reuters)

The United States suspended talks with Sudan on normalizing relations on Tuesday, saying leaders from the north and south were not serious about ending clashes that have stoked fears of a return to civil war.

The announcement by the U.S. envoy to Sudan raised pressure on both sides as the U.N. Security Council began talks with the rivals to try to shore up their 2005 peace agreement after the clashes in the oil-producing central region of Abyei last month.

"As of right now our talks are suspended," Richard Williamson told reporters. "At this point the leadership of either side is not interested in meaningful peace. I won't be part of a sham peace that won't change the situation."

Visibly angry, Williamson said he was "sad and disappointed" and until north and south Sudan wanted peace "there's nothing the Uited States or others can do."

Nafie Ali Nafie, an adviser to Sudan's president, described the U.S. move as "sudden" and "very unfortunate." He told reporters talks on improving relations with the United States had been going well until they reached the subject of Abyei.

Sudan's U.N. ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem went further, saying Williamson had been unhelpful from the start.

"He did not negotiate in good faith," he told Reuters in Khartoum where he was greeting the Security Council diplomats.

"He came to spoil," Abdalhaleem said. "The success of the talks has never figured in his mind. He came just to pollute the atmosphere and go. Linking Abyei to the Sudan-U.S. so-called dialogue, Abyei has never been a part of this."

Sudan, under U.S. sanctions for more than a decade, has been in talks with the United States on normalizing relations. Before any deal, Washington wants to ensure lasting peace in the south and an end to conflict in the western Darfur region.


The clashes in Abyei last month increased fears of a return to all-out war between north and south, which signed a peace agreement in 2005 to end two decades of civil war.

At stake in Abyei is control of lucrative oilfields and a pipeline supplying about half Sudan's daily 500,000 barrel output. Three years after the accord, the sides have failed to agree on the borders or administration for the area.

South Sudan's leader Salva Kiir accused President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's government on Tuesday of reinforcing troops in Abyei. Kiir said he had called Bashir to order a pullback.

Kiir, who is president of south Sudan as well as first vice-president of the country as a whole, said there was no danger of a return to war "as long as there was a will for peace."

Deng Arop, a senior official of the parliament in the south, told Reuters a brigade of northern troops -- at least 1,500 soldiers -- had arrived in el-Muglad, a town about 120 km (75 miles) north of Abyei, over the weekend.

No one was immediately available for comment from Sudan's armed forces. But Abdalhaleem denied there was any troop build-up.

"I don't think there any troops," he said. "Indeed, this issue of troops is part of the campaign and the propaganda always used to give a bad image to the government."

The envoys of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council are on a three-day visit to Sudan, where they will also look at the conflict in Darfur that has been raging since 2003.

The envoys discussed Abyei with Kiir ahead of meetings scheduled with northern leaders on Wednesday and Thursday.


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