October 14, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Former rebels from south Sudan delivered a letter to Khartoum on Sunday detailing their demands for resolving a crisis sparked by the southerners’ pullout from the unity government.
- Riek Machar
But in a sign of the continued bad blood between the two sides, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) criticised President Omar al-Beshir for not personally receiving the letter, the first contact between the two sides in four days.
"President Beshir refused to personally receive the letter that Riak Mashar, vice president in the southern semi-autonomous government, was to deliver," SPLM spokesman Dang Goj told AFP.
The SPLM on Thursday suspended its participation in the central government, accusing Beshir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of failing to implement a 2005 north-south peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.
"For us this is a negative signal, an escalation and negligence of our demands," Goj said, adding that Mashar had travelled to Khartoum to personally hand the letter to Beshir but it was instead received by a minister.
The exact contents of the letter were unknown, but the SPLM’s demands focus on getting Khartoum’s troops out of the south, resolving the fate of the central oil-rich province of Abiye and getting Beshir to allow southern ministers to be reshuffled.
The NCP has in turn accused the SPLM of failing to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended 21 years of war between the Muslim north and Christian and animist south that killed at least two million people and displaced millions more.
The International Crisis Group warned on Friday that both sides had significant forces in the area around Abiye where "the risk grows of a clash with (northern) Sudanese forces that could trigger a broader conflict."
The Brussels-based think tank said the SPLM withdrawal "marks the most serious escalation to date between the parties and highlights that peace can only hold if there is proper and full implementation of the CPA."
The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reiterated its readiness to help the north and south settle their differences after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern at the crisis.
"The UN is encouraged by the contacts and the consultations to be taking place at the highest level between the NCP and the SPLM," UNMIS spokeswoman Radia Achouri told AFP.
She said the UN’s top official in Sudan, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, had requested a meeting with NCP officials in Khartoum "in the course of the next few days" after returning from talks in the southern capital Juba on Saturday.
"The UN preference is for the two partners to resolve the issue through consultation and dialogue," Achouri said, adding that the UN was not mediating but "was ready to offer its good offices to assist the parties if requested."
Around 10,000 UN peacekeepers are deployed in southern Sudan to observe security arrangements, including implementation of the CPA.
The crisis comes amid mounting concern among world powers over the stability of Sudan, already riven by conflict and a deepening humanitarian crisis in the western region of Darfur.
The SPLM pullout raised fears of complicating planned October 27 peace talks between Khartoum and rebels from Darfur, who accuse the military and allied militia of increasing attacks after four years of civil war.
The United States expressed concern on Friday over the withdrawal, saying the move, coupled with increased violence in Darfur, "threaten to set back efforts to achieve peace in Darfur and throughout Sudan."
US State Department spokesman Tom Casey urged both sides "to refrain from violence, immediately withdraw their armed forces along the north-south border" according to the deal, and "redouble their efforts to fully implement the agreement in good faith."
Sudan’s northern neighbour Egypt on Sunday added its voice to worldwide concern and called "on all Sudanese parties to observe restraint and return to dialogue," a foreign ministry statement said.