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.
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.
Mr. Obama said the north and the south have a responsibility to end the violence and allow immediate humanitarian access to "desperate people who have been driven from their homes and are now cut off from outside help."
Valerie Amos, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said more than 70,000 people have been displaced and many more may have fled from their homes in Southern Kordofan.
"I am ... concerned that the overall security situation in Sudan is deteriorating at an alarming rate, with severe humanitarian consequences," Ms. Amos said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir escalated tensions with the south by threatening to block the flow of oil from the south through pipelines in the north if there is no deal on oil revenue sharing before southern independence.
"I give the south three alternatives for the oil. The north is to continue getting its share, or the north gets fees for every barrel that the south sends to Port Sudan," Gen. Bashir told supporters in Port Sudan on Tuesday.
"If they don't accept either of these, we're going to block the pipeline," he said.
Under the current plan, the north and south split oil revenue 50:50. That amount will change to 70:30 in the south's favor.
Gen. Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes in the western province of Darfur.
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