KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Khartoum on Saturday dismissed calls by the U.N. Security Council for it to withdraw its forces immediately from Abyei, the disputed region of divided Sudan they seized on May 21.
A senior official of the northern government in Khartoum said the dispute would be resolved only through north-south negotiations, not pressure from the council.
“This arrangement by government forces is a temporary arrangement. The only solution for the two parties is to find a solution different from referendum or to conduct the referendum,” said Rabie Abdelati, an information ministry official and senior member of the ruling northern party.
“I don’t see any justification for the United Nations Security Council to be involved.”
South Sudan is scheduled to secede and become an independent country in about five weeks, and there has been no agreement on which state should control the fertile, oil-producing region of Abyei on the ill-defined border between them.
A referendum on whether it should be part of the north or south was marred by disputes over who should be allowed to vote. The region is used all year by Dinka Ngok people linked to the south and part of the year by northern Arab Misseriya nomads.
The security council condemned Khartoum’s continued military control of Abyei in a unanimous statement, calling it a “serious violation” of north-south peace accords.
It expressed concern at an influx of Misseriya into Abyei town that “could force significant changes in the ethnic composition of the area”.
There was no immediate reaction from southern officials to the statement, although southern leaders have repeatedly called on Khartoum to withdraw its troops.
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir struck a conciliatory tone in a speech late on Friday, which some analysts said could indicate Khartoum was preparing to negotiate with the south after an initial show of strength.
“We were able to arrive at an agreement to end the war that started in 1955, and so there should be no issue too difficult to solve through negotiations,” Bashir told members of the ruling northern National Congress Party.
“It is better that we sit and discuss and consult,” he said. “We want brotherly ties between the north and the south.”
Violence erupted in Abyei on May 20 after an attack on northern soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers which the north blamed on southern troops. Khartoum moved tanks and troops into the region’s main town the next day.
Tens of thousands of people fled looting and fighting, prompting aid organisations to warn of a humanitarian crisis.
A satellite monitoring project said last week it had documented evidence that the northern military might have committed “war crimes” in Abyei, a charge Khartoum denies.
Abdelati said northern troops were there to “maintain security and peace in the region” until a solution was found.
South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar said last week the two sides had agreed to form a committee to resolve the dispute.
The African Union said on May 31 the two sides had agreed to set up a demilitarised zone along their border, but northern officials have since described the deal as only preliminary.
Ethiopia has said it would consider sending peacekeeping troops to the region if both sides asked for them. Juba and the U.N. have both lodged requests, but Khartoum has not, Ethiopia’s foreign minister told Reuters on Thursday.
Southerners voted for independence in a January referendum promised by a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.