U.S. & AU express concern over situation in Sudan’s Abyei

May 5, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The United States and the African Union (AU) today voiced concern over the growing tensions in the oil-rich region of Abyei that lies on the borders of North and South Sudan.

But the dispute over Abyei remained a sticky point along with other post-referendum arrangements that are still being negotiated.

Abyei residents were supposed to have a referendum in January over whether to join the north or south. Disagreement over who is eligible to vote derailed that ballot and talks over the status of the region have stalled.

"The United States remains deeply concerned about the alarming situation in the Abyei region of Sudan. U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Ambassador Princeton Lyman met jointly with African Union High-Level Implementation Panel Member President Pierre Buyoya as well as UN Special Representative for the – of the Secretary General for Sudan Haile Menkerios, and Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir this morning on this issue," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Thursday.

"Recent actions by both parties to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement run counter to President Bashir and President Kiir’s agreement to resolve the situation peacefully through negotiation and with the assistance of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. The introduction of armed forces into Abyei by both sides violates the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and recently resulted in a violent clash in which Southern forces apparently killed at least 11 members of the Northern Joint Integrated Unit," he added.

This week a Sudanese army convoy clashed with Southern forces in Abyei resulting in the death of 14 people, according to UN figures. Both sides traded blame on who started the fighting.

The U.S. urged both sides to withdraw their troops from the contested area in line with previous accords signed.

"We welcome the May 5th agreement by the National Congress Party and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to immediately implement the Kadugli Agreements and to withdraw illegal troops from Abyei, and urge both sides to act expeditiously to carry out this agreement," the U.S. state department spokesperson said.

The African Union (AU) in a separate statement echoed the U.S. sentiments and said that the violence occurred as a result of failing to implement Kadugli accord stressing that any "unauthorized force" should be withdrawn.

A statement by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said that its chief Haile Menkerios got pledges from North and South to implement the agreements signed. He met with South Sudan president Salva Kiir in Juba today.

“The two parties have committed that the Kadugli and Abyei Agreements shall be carried out with the facilitation and participation of the UN. UNMIS will also support the containment and temporary security measures while a solution is being sought. We have agreed here to immediately move on it,” Menkerios said after the meeting.

Complicating the situation is the move by South Sudan government to assert that Abyei is part of the new state in its constitution. Last week, Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir said he would not recognize south Sudan as an independent state if it that occurred and said he is prepared to go to war on Abyei.

The U.S. at the time criticized Bashir’s remarks saying that they fuel tensions further.