Former South African President Thabo Mbeki says he hopes to have a ceasefire deal in place within days to halt more than a week of heavy fighting in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state. Hundreds of thousands of residents are said to be fleeing the combat zone, creating a fresh humanitarian crisis.
Members of Mr. Mbeki’s Sudan mediation panel broke away from talks in Addis Ababa on Sudan’s political future Thursday for an urgent trip to South Kordofan to meet senior political and military leaders. Arriving back in the Ethiopian capital by day’s end, Mr. Mbeki said all sides had agreed to begin ceasefire negotiations within hours to quell an outburst of hostilities that some have compared to Sudan’s civil war.
"We agreed negotiations should start immediately to negotiate a ceasefire but also to address what is the central issue in this conflict, which is the political future of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which relates to the political future of Sudan as a whole," Mr. Mbeki said.
President Mbeki said it should take no more than a day or two to settle all the logistical details of a cessation of hostilities agreement, but no longer.
"I doubt if we’re a long way. The important point is that both sides have agreed. To effect cessation of hostilities you don’t just announce it. I mean there are soldiers standing facing each other. But it’s not a matter of many days of negotiating those details. I don’t think so," he said.
Joining Mr. Mbeki on the one-day trip were former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya, United Nations special envoy to Sudan Haile Menkerios and US special Sudan envoy Princeton Lyman. Mr. Mbeki said the team had heard an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid for civilians displaced by the fighting.
"They reported to us that there were something like between 400-500,000 people displaced already, that food and medical supplies are not reaching certain areas of the state, and therefore it was very important that this matter be acted upon as quickly as possible," Mr. Mbeki said.
South Kordofan will fall north of the border when Southern Sudan secedes from Khartoum’s rule July 9. But many of its inhabitants are black African who support the mostly Christian and animist south against the predominantly Arab and Muslim north.
Several senior officials of the southern-allied Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the north traveled with the Mbeki party Thursday. The Secretary-General of the SPLM-North, Yasir Arman said ceasefire talks must be accompanied by negotiations with Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party on security in South Kordofan.
"It takes two to tango, we need to sit with the National Congress. We need a serious discussion, a credible process that will lead us to what type of new security arrangement that we are going to get," Arman said.
Fresh fighting has also been reported in the past two days in the Abyei region along the north south border. Talks on Abyei’s status, mediated by President Mbeki’s African Union panel are entering a sixth day at an Addis Ababa hotel.
Mr. Mbeki told reporters late Thursday the panel is at the point of concluding the Abyei negotiations. That would clear the way for action by the United Nations Security Council to create a peacekeeping force to patrol the undefined frontier.