August 21, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Sunday evening arrived unexpectedly in the Sudanese capital Khartoum with Malik Aggar, chairman of the armed opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), to hold talks with President Omer Al-Bashir.
According to Al-Bashir, who was speaking in a joint press conference with Zenawi, the visit’s purpose is “to resolve South Kordofan’s problem and defuse tension in the Blue Nile.”
Al-Bashir, who said he welcomes the move, publicly disavowed a deal signed by his party and the SPLM on 28 June to deescalate the tension in South Kordofan which has been ravaged by battles between Sudan’s army and the SPLM fighters.
The fighting, which erupted in early June after Sudan’s army threatened to disarm SPLA fighters following the secession of their erstwhile ally South Sudan, has so far led to the killing, injury and displacement of at least 200,000 people, according to UN figures.
Al-Bashir scrapped the deal over its recognition of the SPLM-N as a legal political party in Sudan, something which officials from his ruling National Congress Party (NCP) previously vowed not to let it happen, saying that the SPLM-N would be considered an extension of a foreign party.
In response to the NCP’s withdrawal of commitment to the deal, the SPLM said that any future peace talks with the ruling party must be conducted outside Sudan and through a third party.
South Kordofan’s fighting has subsided as the warring sides appear to be deadlocked in a military stalemate as indicated by the soft tone NCP officials have recently adopted towards the rebellion which they previously vowed to crush.
Furthermore, some people close to the situation, including Thabo Mbeki, the head of the AU’s High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, have indicated that Al-Bashir was currently looking for a way to contain the situation in South Kordofan.
“Meles is a friend and [he is] keen on peace and stability in Sudan and a strong advocate of Sudan in regional and international occasions,” Al-Bashir told reporters.
SPLM sources disclosed to Sudan Tribune that Malik Aggar was present during the meeting held between Al-Bashir and Zenawi but he opted to hide from the eyes of reporters. The same sources said that Aggar would return to Addis Ababa with Zenwai.
Prior to his sudden arrival in Sudan, Zenawi held talks on Sunday morning in Addis Ababa with Aggar, SPLM-N’s secretary-general Yasir Arman and deputy chairman Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu who is leading SPLM forces in South Kordofan.
SPLM sources said that the party’s leadership does not mind a resumption of talks which they said should ideally lead to the revival of Addis Ababa’s framework agreement.