Sudan VP says Abyei referendum may be in doubt
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's vice-president said a referendum on the future of the disputed Abyei area might not go ahead unless leaders settled differences over the vote, raising the stakes in troubled north-south territorial talks.
Sudan is about three months away from the scheduled start of the vote on whether oil-producing Abyei should join north or south Sudan -- a plebiscite promised as part of the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.
After a five-year period that was supposed to rebuild relations between the former foes, the two sides are still at loggerheads over issues ranging from how to share oil revenues to the position of their border.
Analysts have warned there is a risk of a return to war if there is any disruption to the Abyei vote -- and a separate and simultaneous vote on whether the south as a whole should secede or stay in Sudan.
Second Vice-President Ali Osman Taha's comments, the first indication from Sudan's northern-based leadership that the Abyei vote might not go ahead, is likely to antagonise southerners who have refused to accept a delay and increasingly talk of a split.
Teams from north and south were meeting in Addis Ababa on Monday to try to agree how the Abyei referendum should be conducted.
"If there is no agreement there will be no room for a referendum in Abyei. The challenge is to reach an agreement that will allow the referendum to take place as scheduled," Taha told a news conference in Khartoum on Monday.
Abyei's chief administrator Deng Arop Kuol, a member of the south's dominant Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) said he did not want to comment on Taha's comment in detail. "But while there are talks ongoing, the vice president should have withheld this statement," Kuol told Reuters. Continued...