North-South Sudanese talks on the status of the disputed Abyei border region are deadlocked nearly a week after negotiators announced they were near agreement. The parties have been stuck for two days over the wording of an agreement.
Talks on Abyei’s future ground to a halt Sunday at an Addis Ababa hotel, reviving fears of a return to war less than three weeks before Southern Sudan breaks away from northern rule.
Separate talks on calling a temporary halt to fighting that is already raging in the Southern Kordofan border state also hung in the balance, with both sides said to be hardening their positions.
Hopes for a deal that would have coincided with chief mediator Thabo Mbeki’s 69th birthday were dashed on Saturday when negotiators could not agree on the wording of a sentence on how Abyei would be governed after the South’s July 9 independence.
Diplomats close to the talks say Mr. Mbeki waited impatiently on Sunday as a second scheduled signing date was cancelled. By the end of the day, frustrations reportedly were mounting as efforts to break the deadlock remained frozen.
With the Abyei talks in limbo and the possibility of a humanitarian ceasefire fading, negotiators pushed ahead Sunday on two other tracks. But the negotiations on oil revenue sharing and dividing the country’s massive debt were dogged by knowledge that failure to agree on Abyei would mean a collapse of the entire process.
The glum atmosphere that hung over Sunday’s talks contrasted with the optimism of a few days earlier, when Mr. Mbeki predicted a humanitarian ceasefire might be in place in South Kordofan within hours.
As he opened the revenue and debt sharing talks three days ago, the former South African president spoke confidently of having all major issues settled at least 10 days before the South’s independence. "So we should perhaps aim that at the latest by June 30; we will have this agreement on all of the issues that remain on our agenda," he said.
The lack of an agreement on Abyei calls into question the need for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Sudan scheduled for Monday. Mr. Mbeki and U.N. special envoy Haile Menkerios are scheduled to brief the council through a videoconference hookup. Security Council members are are considering the creation of a new U.N. peacekeeping mission for Abyei.
But diplomats say such a meeting might be premature in the absence of a agreement between the Sudanese parties on the region’s future.
The Addis Ababa talks began on June 12 with meetings between Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Southern leader Salva Kiir. Those talks resulted in what was described as an “agreement in principle” on the demilitarization of Abyei. But that early optimism subsided after the two leaders returned home and left negotiations of the details in the hands of more hardline subordinates.