Fresh north-south war looming in Sudan, SPLM leader says

Published on Sunday 25th May 2008

Khartoum: The secretary-general of the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) said on Monday his country was on the brink of a new north-south civil war, and called on northern forces to leave a disputed oil town.

"We're on the brink of war. Clashes have already happened," SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum told a news conference, saying that northern government forces had been building up their positions. "I'm sure this will get a response from the SPLA."

But Amum said the SPLA -- the armed wing of the SPLM and now the army of Sudan's semi-autonomous southern government -- was doing all it could to avoid war.

"For us, war is not an option. Moving forces out of the area is the most important step now," he said.

Sudan has witnessed sporadic and sometimes fierce fighting in recent weeks in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, an area claimed by both Khartoum and the southern government.

Some 21 northern Sudanese army soldiers and an unknown number of southerners were killed last week in fighting in Abyei that followed a week of skirmishes sparked by a local dispute.

The clashes have displaced tens of thousands of people, Reuters report said.

Amum called for northern forces to leave Abyei town, and called for the establishment of joint north-south forces, or failing that a full U.N. peacekeeping force in a demilitarised area.

Sudan's ruling party denied last week southern accusations that Khartoum was sending more troops to Abyei.

Sudan's northern government and southern rebels fought a two decade civil war fuelled by ethnicity, ideology, and oil that ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace deal in 2005, when the SPLM formed a coalition government with the ruling northern National Congress Party.

But ties have been strained by the failure so far to agree on borders or a local government for Abyei. A nearby oil pipeline and surrounding installations produce around half of Sudan's daily output of 500,000 barrels of oil.