Last Updated: Sat Mar 12, 2011 19:21 pm (KSA) 16:21 pm (GMT)

S. Sudan accuses Bashir of plot, suspends talks

The attack on the capital of south Sudan's oil-producing Upper Nile state caused an unknown number of casualties (File)
The attack on the capital of south Sudan's oil-producing Upper Nile state caused an unknown number of casualties (File)

South Sudan ruling party suspended talks with Khartoum on Saturday after it accused Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of plotting to overthrow the south's government before the secession of the oil-producing region in July.

Senior southern official Pagan Amum said the south would suspend talks with Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) about plans for the secession and would look into alternative routes for sending its oil to market, away from the north.

Southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence from the north in a January referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.

A northern party official said accusations of a northern plot against southern Sudan are "ridiculous" and the south should feel free to go ahead with a threat to find new routes to export its oil.

"The accusation of a plot is not accurate...ridiculous," said Rabie Abdelati, a senior member of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party.

"If the government of the south wants to export oil through any other means, it is up to them. We don't want to take something that is not ours," Abdelati told Reuters.

Meanwhile, militia fighters attacked the capital of south Sudan's oil-producing Upper Nile state on Saturday, the southern army said, causing an unknown number of casualties.

The attack on Malakal, one of the south's three main settlements, marked an escalation in a wave of clashes between the south's army and militias which has aroused fears over the stability of the region in the countdown to its secession, due on July 9.

"There is fighting going on in Malakal. Militias have penetrated the town. They raided at night," said southern army spokesman Philip Aguer on Saturday morning.

Aguer blamed the attack on fighters he said were aligned with renegade leader George Athor, a former army officer who rebelled last year saying he had been cheated out of the governorship of neighboring Jonglei state in elections.

In January, southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence in a referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the south.

The southern army and government has accused the north of backing militias in the south to destabilize the region and keep control of its oil, an allegation dismissed by Khartoum.

The southern army said the fighting started in the centre of town. Later, U.N. official David Gressly told Reuters the clashes were concentrated in the north of Malakal, near its airport.

Volatile state

Malakal is the administrative centre of Upper Nile, a volatile state bordering north Sudan and Ethiopia. It is the base for many U.N. agencies and international aid groups.

The state includes oil concessions run by Petrodar, a consortium led by CNPC of China and including Malaysia's Petronas and Sudan's own Sudapet.

Aguer said the southern army clashed with the same militia, commanded by one of Athor's deputies called Oliny, outside Malakal on Sunday, leaving at least 56 dead, the latest in a surge of blood-letting in the region.

The southern army estimates more than 100 people died in clashes between northern and southern-aligned groups in the contested Abyei border region last week.

A southern minister said at least 211 people, including civilians, were killed in a "massacre" by Athor's forces in the Fangak area of Jonglei state in mid February. Athor accused the southern army of starting the fighting.

A mutiny by Sudanese troops refusing to leave the south ahead of its expected independence killed at least 50 people in early February in Malakal, said officials.

Troop buildup

A U.S. monitoring group said Friday that armed groups backed by the armies of north and south Sudan are reinforcing their positions in the Abyei border region, where 70 people died in clashes last week,

Satellite images show "a buildup and entrenchment of armed actors" linked to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), at new frontline positions in Abyei, said Enough Project, an anti-genocide group.

It warned in a statement that the increased military activity in the region, including the arrival at an SAF base of transport capable of moving heavy armor, risked a return to war.

"Northern-aligned troops appear to have constructed a forward operating base in the past two weeks at Bongo, some 15 kilometers (12 miles) from the recently razed village of Maker Abior."

"The Bongo base is some 20 kilometers to the north of where SPLA-aligned forces appear to have trenched in at the razed villages of Todach and Tajalei," the group added.

At least 70 people were killed and two villages razed in two days of clashes last week between fighters from the Misseriya tribe, which supports the Khartoum government, and the Ngok Dinka people, who back the south.

Another village was reportedly torched several days later by militia linked to Khartoum.

A peace accord reached by the north and south in the South Kordofan state capital Kadugli on January 17 called on all forces to withdraw from the area except for special joint units of northern and southern troops and U.N. peacekeepers.

A decision on Abyei's own future, as to whether it joins the north or south, was indefinitely postponed with neither side able to agree on voter eligibility.

The future of the fertile but highly volatile region is the most sensitive of a raft of issues which Khartoum and Juba are negotiating ahead of southern independence in July.

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