Khartoum (AFP) — The African Union on Saturday called for urgent talks between Sudan and South Sudan over the flashpoint Abyei region but backed off from a threat to refer the matter to the UN Security Council.
The AU’s Peace and Security Council had given the two countries until 5 December to settle the final status of oil-producing Abyei, which Sudanese troops occupied for a year until May.
But no talks took place by the deadline, the Council said in a statement issued after talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
“Council urgently calls for the anticipated negotiations to take place,” it said.
In October, the AU security body decided that if the two countries could not settle the Abyei issue themselves, they would be bound by an AU proposal for a referendum in October next year on whether the territory joins Sudan or South Sudan.
The AU said it would also seek UN Security Council endorsement of its proposal.
But the statement which followed a meeting on Friday made no mention of UN involvement.
It reiterated that the referendum proposal is “a fair, equitable and workable solution” and said the issue of Abyei’s final status will be referred to a meeting of AU leaders in January.
The AU security body also said it is “eagerly” awaiting a mooted summit between the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan “in order to remove bottlenecks on all pending issues,” including Abyei and other disputed border areas.
Abyei’s final status was the most sensitive matter left unresolved when South Sudan separated last year under a peace agreement that ended 23 years of civil war.
Sudanese troops withdrew from the territory in May after a year-long occupation that sent more than 100, 000 people fleeing towards South Sudan.
The area is now controlled by Ethiopian UN peacekeepers.
Under the proposal made by AU mediators, the referendum would give members of the Dinka, a dominant South Sudanese tribe who live in the Abyei area, the right to vote along with Sudanese with “permanent abode.”
The nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, who regularly graze their animals and move through Abyei, have objected to the plan.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti on Friday asked the AU security body not to send the issue to the UN Security Council, and called for more time for dialogue, the official SUNA news agency reported.
He has previously warned that involving the UN would “complicate the issue and threatens a new conflict.”