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Sudan's PM visits rebel stronghold in Kordofan on peace mission

CAIRO (Reuters) - Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok visited the rebel bastion of Kauda in the South Kordofan region’s Nuba Mountains on Thursday, the first senior Khartoum official to travel there since clashes resumed in the area more than eight years ago.

FILE PHOTO: Sudan's Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok addresses people as they celebrate the first anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir, at the Friendship Hall in Khartoum, Sudan December 25, 2019. Picture taken December 25, 2019. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Kauda, 90km (56 miles) east of South Kordofan state capital Kadugli, is the base of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), the main group fighting the government in the southern provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, leader of a wing of the SPLM-N, invited Hamdok to Kauda during peace talks with other rebel militias in the South Sudanese capital of Juba in September.

“This is a superb opportunity to assure our people in Kauda and all Sudanese in every corner of our beloved country that your transitional government seeks to achieve a comprehensive and just peace,” a statement from the prime minister’s office quoted Hamdok as saying.

“This was particularly the case for war-torn regions that had been marginalized for decades,” Hamdok told a crowd of people who had gathered to meet him on his arrival in Kauda.

Hamdok, a former U.N. diplomat, took office in August under an agreement between the military and civilian parties in Sudan after months of demonstrations against generals who seized power after toppling long-serving autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Vicious clashes between the SPLM-N and the Sudanese government broke out in 2011, just before South Sudan seceded from the north. South Kordofan and Blue Nile states remained within Sudanese territory.

Sustained bombing by Sudanese warplanes causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee into the hills, residents said at the time.

President Omar al-Bashir, ousted last year after popular protests, had vowed to crush the SPLM-N and say Friday prayers in Kauda, but the militia blocked his attempts.

Bashir’s government had been fighting insurgencies in Kordofan, Darfur and Blue Nile states for decades. The SPLM-N is one of Sudan’s biggest militias.

The Nuba Mountains contain a jigsaw of communities that mix Muslims, Christians and others practicing traditional African beliefs.

(The story has been refiled story to fix typo in prime minister’s name in first paragraph)

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Writing by Patrick Werr, Editing by Susan Fenton