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East African Leaders Discuss Sudan Referendum

East African Leaders Discuss Sudan Referendum

East African leaders are meeting to discuss tensions in Sudan, where a referendum on independence for the country's south is now less than seven weeks away.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir are among the officials attending the summit Tuesday in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Participants are urging northern and southern Sudan to avoid a return to the civil war that ravaged the country for 21 years beginning in 1984.

Reuters news agency quotes Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, as saying Africa must use everything in its capacity to stop war from happening. He said the alternative would be "massively destructive" for Sudan, the Horn of Africa and the continent as a whole.

The referendum in southern Sudan is scheduled for January 9. Preparations for the vote have been held up by disputes over border demarcation, oil revenue sharing and other issues.

Northern and southern leaders have accused each other of building up troops along their shared boundary.

The oil-producing Abyei region is scheduled to hold a separate referendum January 9 on whether to be part of northern or southern Sudan. But disagreements over who is eligible to vote have almost completely derailed planning for that poll. The United States recently suggested the sides find "a mutually agreeable alternative" to the Abyei referendum.

Both referendums were promised in the 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan's civil war.

Tuesday's summit in Addis Ababa is being held under the auspices of the six-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Mr. Bashir came to Ethiopia Tuesday despite the warrants for his arrest issued by the International Criminal Court. ICC judges have indicted him for alleged war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region. Ethiopia is not a signatory to the ICC, and has no legal obligation to arrest the Sudanese president.

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