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June 11, 2011

Sudan Summit, Clinton Visit Could Overlap In Addis Ababa

Diplomatic efforts are underway in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, beginning with a crucial meeting of the leaders of North and South Sudan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive just as the summit ends.

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudan’s soon-to-be head of state Salva Kiir will hold critical talks mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. That summit will be followed by a two-day visit from Secretary of State Clinton.

Diplomats Sunday said the two events might overlap, depending on how long the Sudan talks carry on.

An African Union statement said the Sudan summit agenda would include the withdrawal of armed forces from the disputed Abyei region as well as the dispatch of an African-led international mission.

Amid word of fighting along the undefined North-South border, the two leaders are making a formal request to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to send a peacekeeping mission. Diplomats involved in the negotiations say the peacekeepers would be sent under a United Nations Security Council mandate.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman told VOA the Ethiopian prime minister, who is hosting the talks, has been playing a key role in efforts to ease north-south tensions.    

"Prime Minister Meles has been extremely helpful in advising Sudanese, advising mediators, advising everyone on the situation, lending his good offices to support negotiations, and he recently offered to help with security in Abyei provided both sides really want Ethiopia’s participation."

Ambassador Lyman said the Addis Ababa summit presents a unique opportunity for north and south to settle several potentially explosive disputes before they split into two countries next month.

"On July 9th the south will become independent. There’s nothing really going to stop that. Then the two will be negotiating as two different countries, but what are they going to do with oil on July 10 if they haven’t negotiated an oil agreement by July 9?  Things on the border, if they haven’t resolved some of these issues, will remain very tense. So instead of having a cooperative relationship between two countries, you’ll have a very tense and threatening one."

The Sudan summit is due to end Monday, just as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Addis Ababa to deliver a foreign policy address at African Union headquarters. Secretary Clinton is also scheduled to hold high-level talks on Sudan, but will not meet President Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

The U.S. foreign policy chief is expected to hold meetings with South Sudan’s President Kiir, and possibly Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha.