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Sudan minister quits over Abyei 'war crimes'

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1 Sudan minister quits over Abyei 'war crimes' on Thu May 26, 2011 4:29 pm

hatien


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JUBA, Sudan (AFP) – A southern minister in Sudan's government quit office on Tuesday alleging "war crimes" in Abyei, as the United Nations renewed its demand for northern troops to quit the flashpoint border district.

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice warned of the "grave humanitarian consequences" of the seizure of Abyei town by Khartoum troops as she and other Security Council delegates held talks in the southern regional capital Juba.

Luka Biong Deng, a minister of cabinet affairs, resigned after Khartoum declared Abyei a "northern town" and dismissed international calls to pull its troops out of the district also claimed by the soon-to-be independent south.

"We had hoped that we could form two viable states in good relationship with each other, but those in Khartoum do not seem interested in peace," said Biong Deng, who hails from the Abyei area and is a senior leader in the south?s ruling party.

"But with war crimes being committed in Abyei at the hands of (Khartoum?s ruling) National Congress Party, I could not in good faith continue to take part in such a government," he said.

The Security Council delegation renewed demands for northern troops of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) to pull out.

"The withdrawal ought to be immediate, unconditional and complete," Rice told reporters in Juba.

"What has transpired is a grave risk to peace and stability.

"We will assess our option and approaches in light of the seriousness of the parties, and of course the speed of withdrawal of SAF forces from Abyei," she added.

Rice expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Abyei, where there have been reports of arson since northern troops seized the town whose settled Ngok Dinka population favours incorporation in the south.

"There have been horrific reports of looting and burning," she said. "There are large numbers of displaced moving south, in what is by definition dangerous circumstances."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton echoed her concern.

The council of EU ministers "strongly condemns the recent violence in Abyei which saw Sudanese armed forces occupying the town and civilians being driven out," she said.

"We consider the use of force against civilians totally unacceptable. It's crucial that hostilities cease immediately and that the northern forces withdraw from Abyei to prevent a serious setback for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," Ashton added.

Khartoum's defence minister, Abdulrahim Mohammed Hussein, said however that "Abyei will remain a northern town until the population decides on their situation by themselves," the official SUNA news agency reported.

Abyei, a fertile border district claimed by both north and south, was due to vote on its future in January alongside a referendum on independence for the south, which delivered a landslide for secession.

But Abyei's plebiscite did not happen amid arguments as to who was eligible to vote, and northern troops and tanks overran the contested area on Saturday.

"The (northern) army will stay in Abyei in order to maintain security and stability until a political decision is taken," Hussein said.

The southern government has demanded that northern troops withdraw immediately.

"The SAF must end their illegal occupation and leave Abyei," the south?s information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.

In Geneva, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were roughly "15,000 people displaced in and around Agok town," about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Abyei.

The United Nations said the refugees, mainly southern-supporting Dinka Ngok people, fled across the border as armed looters set fire to houses in northern-controlled areas.

Heading in the opposite direction -- and in large numbers -- southern officials say, are pro-northern Misseriya, a cattle-herding people who traditionally move through Abyei each year with their animals seeking pasture and water for their herds.

The north's seizure of Abyei, in the run-up to international recognition of southern independence in July, has been condemned by the world powers as a threat to peace between north and south.

Washington urged Khartoum to withdraw its forces from the district and warned their presence would jeopardise lucrative US efforts to normalise ties.

"We think those forces should be withdrawn," the US envoy for Sudan, Princeton Lyman said on Monday.

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