Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi held talks with northern and southern Sudanese leaders today on outstanding differences overshadowing a landmark vote next month on independence for the south.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz also joined the mini-summit with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and southern leader Salva Kiir in Khartoum with key issues still undecided ahead of the January 9 referendum in the south.
“The summit recognises the depth of the links between the north and the south of Sudan and the importance of building solid relations based on mutual benefit, peace, stability and economic development,” said a short statement read out by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit afterwards.
“The two sides undertook to maintain cooperative relations based on these principles and also agreed to refrain from any step that might disturb the holding of the referendum,” he added.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency had said ahead of the talks that their aim was to “discuss ways to help the Sudanese partners reach agreement on outstanding issues which prevent the full realisation” of their 2005 peace accord.
But Abul Gheit did not go into further details of the discussions, and the Egyptian and Libyan leaders flew out after less than three hours on Sudanese soil.
The largely Christian and animist south is to vote on January 9 on whether to remain united with the Muslim north or break away to form an independent country.
The referendum is the key plank of the 2005 peace deal that put an end to two decades of civil war between north and south.
Analysts predict that southern voters will opt for independence, and even senior northern officials are beginning to accept the idea of Africa’s largest nation being partitioned.
The two sides have been discussing without success since July the key sticking points of future citizenship arrangements, the sharing out of natural resources — particularly oil — security and compliance with international accords, notably on water allocation from the Nile.
They have also yet to find common ground on the disputed oil district of Abyei which had supposed to be holding a simultaneous vote on its own future that has been delayed by disagreements over who should have a ballot.
There has been concern in neighbouring states that a vote for southern independence might trigger renewed efforts by ethnic minorities in other regions of Sudan to break away, particularly in the western Darfur region where the Khartoum government has been fighting a seven-year-old rebellion.
The head of the most militarised of the Darfur rebel groups — the Justice and Equality Movement — is currently based in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Khalil Ibrahim was forced to abandon his former rear-base in neighbouring Chad earlier this year after a rapprochement between Khartoum and Ndjamena.
The presence in Khartoum of both Egyptian and Libyan leaders was a boost for Bashir’s government after the Sudanese president was forced to abandon plans to attend an African Union-European Union summit in Tripoli late last month amid strong European opposition.
In March 2009, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with his government’s conduct of the conflict in Darfur.
In July this year, it added a charge of genocide over accusations the Sudanese leader personally gave orders for the annihilation of the region’s Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, some 55,000 displaced southern Sudanese have returned to their homeland from the north in the last few weeks, ahead of a key referendum on south Sudan’s independence, the UN refugee agency said today. (AFP)