The leader of Sudan's troubled South called on the country's president Tuesday to pull back government troops in a contested oil-rich border region between the north and south that has been the site of recent fighting.
Salva Kiir, who also serves as Sudan's Vice President, said more northern troops were heading from Khartoum, the capital, to Abyei, but dismissed the notion of fighting them, saying the south wants talks.
Abyei lies just north of the disputed boundary line between north and south Sudan, which fought a civil war for more than two decades before a 2005 peace agreement. Both sides want the area because of its oil resources and green fields used for grazing cattle.
Abyei has become a potential flashpoint that could wreck the fragile peace between the ethnic African south and Sudan's Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. Their 21-year civil war left an estimated 2 million people dead.
Last month, a week of clashes between northern government soldiers and former southern rebels left at least 22 soldiers dead and forced almost 90,000 from their homes.
Sudan's 2005 agreement created a unity government led by President Omar al-Bashir and Kiir, his one-time military rival. It also set up a semiautonomous southern government led by Kiir.
"The troops that are coming to Abyei are known by the president of the Republic and I have already called upon him to intervene, to order his military commanders to pull out their forces from Abyei area," Kiir said after a meeting with a visiting U.N. Security Council team.
But Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed said no troops were moving south.
Ambassadors from the 15 Security Council nations are on a journey across Africa, taking a closer look at key issues confronting the world organization.
The Abyei clashes flared at the same time the U.N. was warning of a dangerous escalation of violence on another Sudanese front _ the Darfur conflict.
In a related development, U.S. envoy Richard Williamson said Tuesday that his country's talks with Sudan on normalizing relations have been suspended amid unsuccessful efforts to diffuse tensions between Sudanese north and south over Abyei.
Williamson left Sudan after almost a week of talks with officials from the northern and southern governments. Clearly disheartened, Williamson told reporters he was leaving "sad" and "disappointed."
Williamson said after numerable meetings with the two sides, the situation in Abyei remained unresolved.
Williamson's trip to Sudan was part of ongoing talks between the two countries to normalize relations, following the 2005 peace deal.
Sudanese presidential adviser, Nafie Ali Nafie, said Williamson's attempts to link the Abyei issue to normalizing relations was "unjustified," according to the official SUNA news agency.
"In my view, we have reached reasonable consent on many of the issues we have discussed and that two sides are satisfied," Nafie said.
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