North, South Sudanese Presidents Begin Critical Talks

Posted June 12th, 2011 at 4:25 pm (UTC-5)
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The presidents of northern and southern Sudan have met in an effort to resolve issues that have sparked fighting along the north-south border.

VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein reports that northern leader Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir began talks Sunday in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

He says they met with a high-level African Union panel that included Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and former South African president Thabo Mbeki. The discussions are set to continue Monday.

Ahead of the talks, the AU said the two Sudanese leaders will discuss the withdrawal of troops from the disputed Abyei region and the possible deployment of an Ethiopian-led peacekeeping force to the north-south boundary.

Northern forces seized control of oil-rich Abyei last month, prompting tens of thousands of residents to flee the area.

Also Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all parties to stop the hostilities in the area, even as he welcomed the talks in Addis Ababa.

Separately, northern troops have been fighting armed groups in the border state of South Kordofan for more than a week. On Sunday, the north's army denied reports that two of its warplanes were shot down in South Kordofan.

South Sudan is set to declare independence in less than a month, after voting to split from the north in a January referendum.

The north and south previously fought a 21-year civil war that ended in 2005. The unrest in Abyei and South Kordofan has raised fears that Sudan could sink back into a prolonged conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive in Addis Ababa just as the Sudanese summit is ending. Clinton, who is on a three-nation African trip, is scheduled to deliver a foreign policy address at African Union headquarters.

She is expected to meet with south Sudan President Kiir, and possibly with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha.

She is not expected to meet with President Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.