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US Envoy to Sudan Tries to Defuse North-South Crisis

A top U.S. diplomat is meeting with north and south Sudanese leaders in an effort to defuse the crisis over the disputed, oil-producing Abyei region.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson has called for the sides to consider letting international peacekeepers take charge of Abyei, the site of heavy fighting earlier this month.

The clashes between Sudanese government troops and fighters from the semi-autonomous south killed dozens and virtually destroyed the town of Abyei, displacing tens of thousands of residents.

Williamson met with southern Sudanese leaders on Saturday, and is expected to meet with members of the northern-based central government this week.

Experts have warned the dispute over Abyei and its oil could derail the 2005 peace agreement that ended Sudan's devastating, 21-year north-south civil war.

Meanwhile, southern Sudanese officials have rejected a government proposal for a joint north-south administration in Abyei. The south's main political party the Sudan People's Liberation Movement says Khartoum's proposal -- announced Friday -- is a publicity stunt that would not resolve the dispute.

Besides Abyei, northern and southern Sudan are at odds over wealth and power-sharing issues, and the continued presence of northern troops in southern territory.

The peace agreement calls for the people of Abyei to choose between the north and the south in a 2011 referendum. Southern Sudan is scheduled to hold a referendum the same year on whether to secede from the rest of the country.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.