Mbeki Predicts Cease-fire in Southern Sudan ‘Within Days’

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 8:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Former South African President Thabo Mbeki says he hopes to have a cease-fire deal in place within days to halt more than a week of heavy fighting in Sudan's Southern Kordofan state.

Members of Mr. Mbeki's Sudan mediation panel broke away from talks in Ethiopia on Sudan's political future Thursday for an urgent trip to Southern Kordofan to meet senior political and military leaders.

Returning to the Ethiopian capital by day's end, Mr. Mbeki said all sides had agreed to begin cease-fire negotiations within hours to quell an outburst of hostilities that have raised feared of a new civil war.

In another development Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama says he is sending U.S. Sudan envoy Princeton Lyman back to the region amid rising violence that could complicate south Sudan's scheduled independence.

The south officially becomes independent from the north July 9, but the sides remain split on several key issues, including the future of the border region.

North Sudanese forces seized control of the border region of Abyei last month and Khartoum has rejected international calls to withdraw its troops. Fighting is also taking place in the border state of Southern Kordofan.

A White House statement said President Obama is deeply concerned about the violence and a lack of humanitarian access to the region. He said Sudanese leaders urgently need to get back to talks to fulfill a 2005 peace agreement.

Envoy Lyman said international mediators are “fairly close” to an agreement that would get Sudanese forces out of Abyei, and that an agreement on South Kordofan is being “put together,” but is not as far along.

Lyman joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Addis Ababa earlier this week for talks on Sudan.

Also Thursday, a State Department spokeswoman urged China to use its influence with the Sudanese government in Khartoum to calm the situation. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is due to visit China later this month.

China has invested billions of dollars developing Sudanese oil resources, much of which will be in the prospective new southern state.

North and south Sudan fought a 21-year war that ended with the 2005 peace deal. The south voted overwhelmingly to split from the north in a referendum in January.