- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2011

JUBA, Sudan (AP) — Southern Sudan is suspending talks and diplomatic contact with northern Sudan over claims that the northern government is funding militias in the south, a top Southern Sudanese official said Sunday.

The announcement, which follows clashes that have killed hundreds of people in recent months, could further destabilize what will become the world’s newest country in July.

Pagan Amum, the secretary-general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, on Sunday repeated allegations that the northern government is arming local tribes to use as proxy forces, a tactic it repeatedly has used in both southern Sudan and the western region of Darfur.

“The country is in a crisis because the (northern ruling party) has been planning and working to destabilize Southern Sudan,” he told reporters in the southern capital of Juba. He offered to provide documentary evidence on Monday.

The oil-rich south voted in January to secede from the north, but there are many issues that still remain unaddressed, including the sharing of oil revenues; the status of southerners or northerners living across the border; and control of the disputed border region of Abyei, a fertile area near large oil fields.

Many southerners fear the north does not want to lose southern oil revenues and the two regions may resume their decades-long civil war.

Mr. Amum said that the northern government wanted “to overthrow the government of Southern Sudan before July and to install a puppet government” in order to “deny the independence of Southern Sudan.

“They have stepped up their destabilization of Southern Sudan by creating, training, and arming and financing various militia groups in Southern Sudan,” he said.

Negotiations over the future of the volatile and contested north-south borderland of Abyei were set to resume Monday in Khartoum between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir, with former South African President Thabo Mbeki mediating the talks, but Mr. Amum said Sunday that these negotiations would not go ahead as planned.

“We have nobody to talk to (in the north),” Mr. Amum said. The northern government has “been arming Arab tribes … so that they carry out genocide and destroy Southern Sudan … like what they have done in Darfur.”

Mr. Amum called on the United Nations Security Council to investigate the allegations.

The suspension of talks follows a raid by rebel forces opposed to the southern government early Saturday. The rebels attacked southern army forces in the strategic town of Malakal, capital of oil-rich Upper Nile state.

Col. Philip Aguer, an army spokesman, said 40 rebels and two southern army soldiers were killed.

A U.N. official said that, during the fighting, rebel forces had taken hostage 103 children from an orphanage and used them briefly as human shields. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The rebel forces were repelled from the town by the army, but fighting continued sporadically throughout the day and into the evening as the military attempted to flush out rebels hiding throughout the town.

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