US urges SA to prevent Sudan crisis
Pretoria - A top US envoy on Wednesday urged South Africa to use its influence to help prevent a humanitarian disaster in a violence-wracked region along the border between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan.
Princeton Lyman, the special US envoy on Sudan, said civilians caught up in fighting in Sudan's Blue Nile and South Kordofan states are running out of food and medicine.
He said South Africa should pressure Sudan to allow in international humanitarian agencies.
"The prospect of hundreds of thousands of people dying with no access to food or medicine is something we can't accept," Lyman said in a speech on Wednesday.
"We can prevent it. There's time to do it."
Charles Nqakula, South Africa's special envoy on Sudan, told reporters later his country had received several requests similar to Lyman's, including from South Sudan, and would act to ensure "that that crisis is averted".
He did not elaborate.
US diplomacy is limited. While Lyman can talk with lower-level officials, he does not meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir because the president has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in Sudan's Darfur region.
Fighting is the problem
Sudan's ambassador to South Africa, Ali Yousif Alsharif, said on Wednesday his government might yield if Thabo Mbeki were to call for international aid groups to be able to work freely in Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
But Alsharif, who appeared alongside Lyman at a forum organized by South Africa's foreign affairs department, added: "There is no famine in these areas. There is fighting, but it is caused by the attacks by neighbouring South Sudan."
Jago Arop Yor, a South Sudanese diplomat who also took part in Wednesday's forum, denied her government was behind the violence. She blamed the fighting on Khartoum, saying it was trying to discourage others in Sudan from following South Sudan's path to independence.
Fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels who want to topple the Khartoum government started last year in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and has raised concern about a larger north-south war erupting again.
Groups in both states, which border South Sudan, sided with the south during a lengthy civil war but remain part of the north.
South Sudan has faced a host of problems since gaining independence in July. Some 80 000 people fleeing the fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan have sought refuge in impoverished and underdeveloped South Sudan.
South Sudan's Jonglei state has seen deadly ethnic violence. And tensions have risen between Sudan and South Sudan over sharing oil.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, US envoy Lyman said the bitter oil dispute and the Blue Nile and South Kordofan fighting were especially worrying. The fighting, he said, already has led to cross-border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan.
"I don't think either country wants to go back to war," Lyman said, but added that disputes could easily spill over into conflict.