Sudan urges South Sudan to expel rebels for oil restart
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan will not allow South Sudan's oil exports to flow through its territory until Juba cuts ties with anti-Khartoum rebels and expels their leaders, a Sudanese vice president said on Wednesday, dampening hopes that bilateral tensions were over.
In a rare interview with foreign media, Sudan's Second Vice President al-Haj Adam Youssef also dismissed rumors that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was in poor health, and said senior officers arrested for planning a coup against the veteran leader last month would get a fair trial.
Sudan and South Sudan agreed in September to secure their disputed border and resume oil exports after clashes brought them close to an all-out war in April. It was the worst violence since the South seceded last year under a 2005 deal that ended decades of civil war.
The African neighbors have yet to withdraw their armies from the border, a step both said was necessary to resume oil flows from the south, a lifeline for both of their economies.
South Sudan shut down its entire output of 350,000 barrels a day in January after failing to agree on an export fee with Sudan for the crude to pass through pipelines in the north.
On Sunday, South Sudan's negotiator Pagan Amum said exports could restart in two or three weeks, raising hopes that lingering issues would be resolved at talks in Khartoum this week.
But Youssef rejected Amum's assertion that security questions had been settled, and accused Juba of continuing to support and host rebels fighting the Khartoum government.
"We see that nothing has been done positively in this respect. We want action, of course, rather than talking," Youssef told Reuters, sitting in his office in the Republican Palace on the banks of the Nile.
"We hope the next few days will reveal some positive steps, he said, but added: "Unless the security is sorted out nothing is going to be implemented (regarding oil) ... We are waiting for concrete and positive steps."
Juba denies Khartoum's charges that it supports insurgents in Darfur and rebels of the SPLM-North fighting in the border states of South Kordafan and Blue Nile. But analysts say the allegations by Sudan are credible.
Journalists photographed Darfur rebels fighting alongside the South Sudanese army during the border clashes in April and have met some SPLM-North leaders in the South's capital Juba.
"They shouldn't be supported, of course, by any means of support, military support or political support. They have to be chased out," Youssef said.
Sudan would not budge on security, he said, adding that the government had not included oil exports fees from the South in its budget for next year.
Youssef ruled out talks with the SPLM-North, made up mainly of fighters who sided with the South during the civil war, until it cut ties with Juba.
"They have to come to us as Sudanese but not representing the South Sudan army," he said. "For example, if a Sudanese is working in the American marines and then he comes here to talk with us as a Sudanese, we are not going to accept it at all."
A FOILED COUP
Youssef, who comes from an Arab tribe in Darfur, dismissed health rumors about Bashir. The president has undergone surgery twice since August in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia.
"He is in his office upstairs and working, you can see him," he said, pointing in the direction of Bashir's office in the historic palace, once the seat of British colonial rule in the country.
Bashir has appeared in public less often in recent months and did not attend a major Arab mining conference in Khartoum last week, fuelling speculation that he was in poor health.
The president, who seized power in a 1989 coup, has faced street protests over galloping inflation since Sudan lost three-quarters of its original oil output to South Sudan when the latter gained independence last year.
Youssef said Bashir could still seek re-election in the next election, expected in 2015, although officials in his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said last year he would not run again.
"At the right time, the institution will resume its meeting and decide who is the nominee for the NCP for the presidency for the next round," he said. "There is nothing that will hinder President Bashir to be nominated."
Weak opposition parties have failed to mobilize mass anti-government protests but signs of a new threat emerged when authorities arrested ex-spy chief Salah Gosh and a group of officers last month for planning a plot to undermine security.
Confirming for the first time it was a coup attempt against Bashir, Youssef said those arrested would get a fair trial. He dismissed the plot as "normal in Sudan", a country that has seen several governments overthrown since independence in 1956.
"They had prepared their weapons but not shouldered them yet," he said. "It is normal, isn't it? It's normal in a country like Sudan. Haven't you heard it in other countries?"
"The ambition of human beings cannot be suppressed. Everyone has ambitions to be president, even you probably think of that."
(Additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and David Stamp)
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