Sudan to talk to southern rebels

2013-04-14 22:10
Top leaders of the rebel movement, (from left to right) Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu, deputy chairman of SPLM-N and commander in chief of its military wing, Malik Agar, SPLM-N chairman and Yasir Arman, SPLM-N secretary general. (AFP)

Top leaders of the rebel movement, (from left to right) Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu, deputy chairman of SPLM-N and commander in chief of its military wing, Malik Agar, SPLM-N chairman and Yasir Arman, SPLM-N secretary general. (AFP)

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Khartoum - Sudan is still willing to talk with rebels in South Kordofan, the government said on Sunday, despite the deadly weekend bombardment of the state's capital.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) told AFP on Sunday it carried out the Friday afternoon shelling after being "provoked" by the government.

The attack came as President Omar al-Bashir held talks in the South Sudanese capital Juba with his counterpart Salva Kiir in a symbol of easing tensions, particularly over the South's alleged support for SPLM-N.

"We are ready to talk" to the SPLM-N, the official Suna news agency quoted Ibrahim Ghandour, head of the government's negotiating team, as saying.

"We are waiting for the time of the negotiation."

The government had long rejected talks with the SPLM-N, which has been fighting for almost two years in South Kordofan and another state, Blue Nile.

But on April 1 Bashir said his administration seeks a broad political dialogue, "including (with) those who are armed".

He also announced amnesty for all political prisoners although none from the SPLM-N are known to have been freed.

The rebels have said they are ready to talk on the basis of a UN resolution passed last year, but the government wants to use a different framework.

Retaliation

Rebel spokesperson Arnu Ngutulu Lodi said the SPLM-N has yet to receive any invitation to talks under African Union mediation.

He denied the Friday bombardment was timed to Bashir's Juba visit and said it was retaliation against recent offensive moves by the government. These included the aerial bombing of four villages around Kadugli a day earlier, which injured a woman, he said.

Sudan's foreign ministry said on Sunday that three civilians died in the rebel attack during Friday prayers.

One resident who witnessed the bombardment across from his own home told AFP that shells struck houses in the town's east end, killing two people and wounding eight.

"We doubt they are civilians" because the military is "in every corner" of Kadugli, Lodi said.

Asked whether there might be more shelling, he added: "We are now planning to attack Kadugli itself." He warned people to get out of the town.

On Sunday, another Kadugli resident said people did not appear to have heeded that call as life had "returned to normal" after the shelling.

In September, Sudan and South Sudan reached a series of security and economic agreements which they hailed as easing tensions after fighting along their disputed border earlier last year.

Under those pacts the two sides were to set up a demilitarised buffer zone to cut cross-border rebel support.

Buffer zone

But the deals were not implemented as Khartoum pushed for guarantees that Sudan would no longer back the SPLM-N.

A breakthrough came last month, when Sudan and South Sudan finally settled on detailed timetables to implement the measures including the buffer zone, which they have now started to set up.

A diplomatic source said earlier that Khartoum apparently hoped the agreements would weaken the rebels, who remained a "potential spoiler" of the deals.

Although relations with South Sudan are normalising, Khartoum's foreign ministry on Sunday said "other countries", which it did not name, have been encouraging the rebels, posing a threat to regional stability.

In Kampala, Uganda, Sudanese opposition parties and rebel groups early this year signed a charter for toppling Bashir's 23-year government.

An estimated one million people have been affected by the fighting inside Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

- SAPA
Read more on:    splm-n  |  omar al-bashir  |  sudan  |  east africa
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