KHARTOUM (Reuters) - South Sudanese officials said on Tuesday they were pulling out of talks between Sudan and the United States, saying the negotiations could have emboldened northern soldiers to attack a disputed oil town.
Tens of thousand of civilians fled the central town of Abyei last week during clashes between northern and southern troops, prompting fears of further conflict.
Yaser Arman, deputy secretary general of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said all southern ministers would withdraw from talks with the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson, due to start on Wednesday.
“The SPLM has decided to suspend its participation in the Sudanese/American dialogue to normalize the relationship between Khartoum and Washington,” Arman told Reuters.
“This is as a result of the destruction of Abyei town and the displacement of 100,000 civilians.”
The SPLM’s secretary general Pagan Amum on Monday told Reuters Sudan was on the brink of a fresh civil war following the clashes.
Northern and southern officials have blamed each other for starting the fighting that left more than 20 northern soldiers and an unknown number of southerners dead.
Both the north and the south claim Abyei, which is close to oilfields that produce up to a half of Sudan’s daily 500,000-barrel output. The boundaries of the region were left undecided in a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of north-south civil war.
The SPLM is a former southern rebel group that joined a coalition government with the dominant northern National Congress Party after signing the peace deal in 2005.
SPLM-appointed ministers, chief among them Foreign Minister Deng Alor, were due to join a coalition Sudanese government team in talks with Williamson, who is due to fly into Khartoum on Wednesday.
But Arman said that would not happen because the SPLM now thought northern Sudanese politicians may have become emboldened by the prospect of a return to normal relations with the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Sudan since 1997.
“We think maybe the dialogue between Khartoum and Washington encouraged them to attack Abyei,” he said.
He added that since Abyei had been destroyed by last week’s fighting, all discussions about it between Sudan and the United States were not “not useful for us”.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum said comment on the SPLM announcement would have to come from the State Department in Washington.
Williamson last month said Sudan still had a “long, tough road” ahead before it cold hope for improved relations with the United States, calling for “verifiable progress on the ground” in north-south relations and Darfur.
State media on Tuesday quoted northern Sudanese government ministers as calling on the SPLM to “resort to reason” in its reaction to the Abyei crisis.
Didiri Mohamed Ahmed, the NCP official in charge of Abyei, said he would not respond to the SPLM’s comments ahead of a meeting of military officers and senior officials from both the north and south, due to take place in Khartoum on Tuesday.
Editing by Giles Elgood