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North, South Sudanese Envoys Start Abyei Talks

A machinegun-mounted truck manned by members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) drive past burning businesses and homesteads in the center of Abyei, central Sudan in this handout photograph released by United Nations Mission in Sudan on May 28, 2011

Representatives from north and south Sudan are meeting Saturday to discuss the disputed Abyei region that was seized by northern forces a week ago.

South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar traveled to Khartoum Saturday in an effort to lower tensions with northern officials. The visit comes as envoys from the north and south were also expected to meet in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Abbas, in an attempt to end the crisis.

Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir has called for a complete withdrawal of Sudanese government forces from Abyei saying the south did not want to return to war.

Southern officials say some 80,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, while United Nations officials say tens of thousands of people are living out in the open, with little food or fuel.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman, is heading to Qatar and then Sudan to discuss the Abyei situation. He is expected to urge Sudanese officials to settle unresolved north-south issues before the south declares independence on July 9.

Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called on the African Union to stress to both sides a military showdown over Abyei is not an option.

The two sides have been at odds over the future of Abyei, an oil-rich region located on the north-south border.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said the north-south border region will remain in northern hands.

(5/30 - Date of independence corrected from July 19 to July 9)

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