Southern Sudan walks out of talks on secession

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 14, 2011 

KHARTOUM, Sudan — The peaceful division of Sudan into two independent nations this summer appears in jeopardy after leaders of southern Sudan walked out of talks here over what they say are plans by the northern government to install "a puppet government" in the oil-rich south.

Citing documents as hard proof of the allegations, the southern leaders broke off talks on Saturday aimed at setting formulas for dividing northern and southern Sudan into two independent nations in July after 50 years of civil war.

The documents, which were obtained by McClatchy on Monday but whose authenticity could not be independently verified, appear to be official internal communications within Sudan's northern government from 2009 to late 2010.

Some pages indicate that northern military leaders provided arms to key southern rebels within the last year, including George Athor, a renegade former senior general in the southern army who killed 200 civilians in an attack last month on a remote village and who launched another against a major provincial capital on Saturday that killed dozens.

The south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement has long maintained that the northern government has continued its wartime policy of arming southern dissidents even after a 2005 peace deal between the two sides. The north's National Congress Party consistently denies such claims.

"The National Congress Party is not interested in peace, it is not interested in cooperation. They are only interested in destabilizing Southern Sudan," Pagan Amum, secretary-general of the south's Sudan People's Liberation Movement, said Monday.

The public row began Saturday, when Amum unexpectedly announced that the SPLM was suspending participation in negotiations with the north over such sticky issues as how to split Sudan's oil industry, how to divide the nation's national debt, and where to draw the disputed border.

The NCP dismissed the south's accusations as an attempt to deflect criticism over weeks of violence since a referendum in January that overwhelmingly approved separation. But the NCP has not reacted to the documents specifically.

"They will come back," said Salah Gosh, a northern official and a former Sudanese intelligence chief. "They have no other way rather than to sit down and solve the problem."

One of the documents appears to be a letter dated May 18, 2010, and signed by a military commander in the northern city of Kosti that reports that a delivery of weapons and ammunition had just been given to an Athor agent.

Another, dated September 22, 2010, is from the head of northern military intelligence requesting permission to arm Lam Akol, a senior opposition figure, and other "friendly forces." A corresponding reply the next day grants the request.

Amum said the documents prove that the north hopes to overthrow the southern government and is possibly preparing for genocide against southern people.

The hostile rhetoric has put an end to a brief honeymoon period following the north's decision to accept the rebellious south's choice to separate from northern rule.

One of the biggest drivers of ongoing tensions is the disputed border region of Abyei, where more than 100 people died in a week of fighting beginning Feb. 27. At least three southern villages were attacked and burned by northern fighters. Although small in size and population, Abyei has a strong lobby within the SPLM and its local tribe holds a number of senior positions.

Mediation efforts by the United States, the African Union, and the United Nations have failed to find a political solution on Abyei. A White House statement last week condemned both sides for deploying troops in the area in violation of the 2005 peace deal.

Monday was the final day for southern security forces to withdraw before northern cattle herders move south into southern-inhabited Abyei land, said Al Dirdiri Mohammed Ahmed, the lead NCP negotiator on Abyei. The official said he expected a "lot of skirmishes" and deterioration of the situation in the coming days.

A senior southern official in Abyei, Charles Abyei, said that the remarks proved that the NCP is directing the northern attacks.

(Boswell is a McClatchy special correspondent. His reporting is supported in part by a grant from Humanity United, a California-based human rights foundation.)

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