- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The U.S. cannot improve relations with Sudan’s government in Khartoum unless the north and the south end violence in an oil-rich region they both claim, President Obama said Wednesday.

Violence in Southern Sudan’s oil-rich Abeyei region and in northern Sudan’s state of Southern Kordofan has threatened to undermine stability in the country ahead of the independence of the south on July 9.

Mr. Obama said a cease-fire in Southern Kordofan and an agreement to deploy peacekeepers in Abyei could put the north-south peace process back on track.

“But without these actions, the roadmap for better relations with [Khartoum] cannot be carried forward, which will only deepen Sudan’s isolation in the international community,” he said.

Southern Sudanese officials claim the north’s army has engaged in ethnic cleansing in Southern Kordofan.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese are fleeing from the contested north-south border region of Abyei. The top U.S. official in the region warned of a humanitarian crisis over the north's invasion. (Associated Press)
Tens of thousands of Sudanese are fleeing from the contested north-south border ... more >

But a Western official who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity said there was ample evidence that both sides had engaged in “retribution.”

“The situation in Southern Kordofan is dire, with deeply disturbing reports of attacks based on ethnicity,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama’s reference to “political grievances” in Southern Kordofan irked northern officials.

A senior Sudanese official, who spoke on background citing the sensitive nature of the developments, told The Times that Southern Kordofan has never been claimed by the south. He accused southern supporters in Southern Kordofan of provoking the violence.

Southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) armed militia groups operating in the region have put peace in jeopardy, he said.

“Per the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, these remnants like other armed entities were supposed to have joined either the southern or the northern armies,” the official said.

The southern troops are part of joint north-south forces in the country.

The Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed an agreement this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to reduce tensions in Abyei and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers into the disputed region.

Mr. Obama singled out the northern Sudanese Armed Forces over its aerial bombardment of civilians in Southern Kordofan and intimidation of U.N. peacekeepers.

Humanitarian groups also accuse the north of obstructing the movement of their workers.

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