Germany urges Sudan north-south cooperation

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Germany's foreign minister said on Thursday he was "deeply concerned" about the plight of civilians displaced by the conflict in central Sudan, and urged north and south to cooperate.

"The urgent situation of the refugees forced to flee the fighting in Abyei and South Kordofan makes us deeply concerned," Guido Westerwelle told a news conference in Khartoum, after meeting his Sudanese counterpart Ali Ahmad Karti.

"We are asking the authorities of north and south Sudan to quickly agree on a lasting solution in the border areas, for the sake of these people who are suffering," he said during a two-day visit.

"The world is looking at Sudan... It is absolutely crucial that all the open questions are solved in a peaceful way. Negotiation and cooperation is ten times better than any kind of confrontation," he added.

Tensions are running high between Juba and Khartoum in the run-up to south Sudan's formal declaration of independence on July 9, with a raft of divisive issues still unresolved, including borders, security, oil and citizenship.

Conflict in the border areas of Abyei and South Kordofan, the ethnically divided northern state that has witnessed heavy clashes between government forces and troops aligned to the south, has further sour relations prior to partition.

The conflict there has so far displaced more than 70,000 people, according to the United Nations, while the northern army's occupation of the contested Abyei district last month prompted more than 110,000 residents to flee south.

On Wednesday, the Sudanese army arrested six UN staff of southern origin just as they were due to fly from South Kordofan's state capital Kadugli to the south as part of the beleaguered UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIS)'s relocation plan.

The Sudanese foreign minister insisted at Thursday news conference that Khartoum was not hindering the work of the United Nations, while restating the government's decision not to renew UNMIS's mandate when it expires on July 9.

"We are not at all forbidding or hampering the work of the United Nations in Sudan. The United Nations is here in so many other fields," Karti said.

Fighting was ongoing on Wednesday in South Kordofan's anti-government stronghold of Kauda, in the Nuba Mountains, where six aerial bombardments were carried out by army aircraft, a UN source requesting anonymity said.

Church leaders and activists say the army's campaign forms part of a government policy of ethnic cleansing, targeting the embattled state's indigenous Nuba peoples who fought with the former southern rebels during their 1983-2005 war with Khartoum.

Westerwelle was due to meet Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha and travel to Darfur later on Thursday, before flying to Juba on Friday to meet southern president Salva Kiir.

As chair of the UN Security Council next month, Germany will be responsible for the process of accepting a newly independent south Sudan into the United Nations.

© 2011 AFP

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