By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: May 26, 2011
NAIROBI, Kenya â€” Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of the breakaway region of southern Sudan, declared on Thursday that he would not go to war over the disputed Abyei territory, which Sudanese tanks and troops seized Saturday.
“We will not go back to war. It will not happen,” Mr. Kiir said at a news conference in southern Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Sudan has been increasingly tense over the past few days after northern troops stormed into Abyei and essentially annexed it. The incursion set off looting and pillaging, and United Nations officials have said northern troops might even be helping to “ethnically cleanse” the area to make it impossible for the original residents to ever return. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and countless huts burned to the ground.
Abyei straddles the border between northern and southern Sudan and is claimed by both sides. With less than two months to go before southern Sudan is to split off to form its own country, fears have been growing that the territory’s disputed status could derail a peaceful breakup.
But Mr. Kiir, a former bush fighter known for his patience and reserve, seemed to be trying to ease tensions. Analysts say he has little choice. The north has a better-equipped military, including fighter jets, and it is not clear that southern forces could retake Abyei even if they wanted to. More than that, southern Sudan is so close to achieving a goal that it has fought decades for â€” independence â€” that few expect Mr. Kiir to risk that to hold onto Abyei.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kiir called for Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, to pull his forces out of Abyei. He reiterated that “the south will become independent on July 9, whether the north recognizes the south or not.”
The two sides have also agreed to resume negotiations over the remaining separation issues, including Abyei, on Sunday.
Northern and southern officials have been meeting in Ethiopia over the past few months to hammer out agreements on oil sharing, debt and the disputed border. Analysts said it was a good sign that even after the takeover of Abyei, the two sides were still willing to negotiate with each other.