Clinton calls for peacekeepers in Abyei
Dar es Salaam - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday endorsed the idea of a peacekeeping force in Sudan's disputed Abyei region and encouraged both sides to take up an Ethiopian offer of troops.
"The United States strongly believes a robust peacekeeping presence should be a central part of the security arrangements in Abyei," Clinton said before leaving Dar es Salaam on her Africa tour.
"The government of Sudan should urgently facilitate a viable security arrangement starting with the withdrawal of Sudanese Armed Forces," Clinton said, referring to the northern army.
"We would welcome both parties [north and south Sudan] agreeing to ask Ethiopia, which has volunteered to send peacekeepers, to do so as part of the UN mission," she said.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and south Sudan leader Salva Kiir have since Sunday been in talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa aimed at resolving the crises in the Abyei and another border region, South Kordofan, one month ahead of the south's independence.
Mediators described the talks as "tense" and said they were likely to last several more hours.
The talks come as the United Nations confirmed that the fighting of the past few days in volatile South Kordofan, the north's only oil-producing state, has spilled across the border into the south.
"Fighting including bombardments and artillery shelling has been reported in 11 of the 19 localities in Southern Kordofan state, and has spread to Pariang County in Unity State, southern Sudan," the UN humanitarian office (Ocha) said.
Clinton will meet with Kiir in Addis Ababa, an aide said, likely later Monday, but not with Bashir.
Bashir has been charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague but refuses to recognise its authority, though his travels have been severely restricted.
South Sudanese officials have been saying the northern army has killed civilians in air strikes south of the border but UN sources had previously insisted the bombing was restricted to the north-south border area.
For eight days, heavy clashes have raged between the Sudanese Armed Forces and northern members of the former southern rebel army (the SPLA) in South Kordofan, the adjacent state to Unity north of the disputed border.
The south is due to proclaim full independence on July 09, under a peace deal after decades of conflict with the north, and the fighting threatens to overshadow the historic event, particularly if the southern army is drawn in.
The two sides have struggled to make progress on resolving those issues, of which the future status of Abyei remains the most sensitive and intractable.
Northern troops occupied the contested border region on May 21, in response to an attack on a convoy of northern army troops and UN peacekeepers, which was blamed on the army of the south.
An AU statement prior to the talks had indicated that the they would focus on Abyei, among other "key issues facing Sudan at this historic juncture".
"High on the agenda is the issue of Abyei, including the withdrawal of armed forces from the area and the dispatch of an African-led international mission to provide security, to provide conditions for the speedy return of displaced people and steps towards a final settlement of the status of the area," it said.
The violence in central Sudan has poisoned the atmosphere of the ongoing north-south negotiations in Ethiopia, according to sources close to the talk.