ADDIS ABABA, Nov 24 – East African leaders meeting Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital called on north and south Sudan to resolve their differences ahead of January\’s referendum on autonomy for the south.
The call came after a face to face meeting between Sudan\’s President Omar al-Bashir and south Sudan leader Salva Kiir ahead of the main summit plenary, designed to ease tensions ahead of the referendum.
That meeting was mediated by host Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and the two men were expected to meet again Wednesday in Khartoum, with former South African president Thabo Mbeki as mediator, a diplomat said.
"We didn’t get into the details of the discussions on Abyei," Meles told journalists after the meeting.
"What we tried to create is the right environment for the negotiations on Abyei to make progress," he said, referring to the disputed oil-rich region whose future will be decided in January.
The six member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) wrapped up their one-day summit by expressing concern over unresolved issues that could jeopardise full implementation of the 2005 peace agreement, brokered by IGAD.
IGAD "expresses concern over pending issues that continue to threaten the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and urges the parties to resolve the remaining differences," a closing statement said.
On Monday Ethiopian Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told journalists that the unresolved issues are : "Abyei, which is under negotiation … the (border) demarcation process and citizenship".
The January 9 referendums in south Sudan and oil-rich Abyei could partition Africa\’s largest country. The polls follow 2005 peace accords ending two decades of conflict between the majority Muslim north and largely Christian south that left two million dead.
In south Sudan, the people must vote either for independence or to remain united with the north. In the second poll, the contested region of Abyei must choose whether to unite itself with north or south Sudan.
The Ethiopian minister added that some of the issues need to be solved prior to the referendums while others could wait until later.
Uganda\’s President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh also attended the summit, which was held behind closed doors.
The only IGAD head of state who was absent was Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The regional body stated its concerns over the recent political developments in Somalia "that continue to be characterized by internal wrangles and lack of cohesion among the leadership of the Transitional Federal Institutions".
On Monday Somali lawmakers postponed indefinitely their vote of confidence in the government appointed by the country\’s new prime minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, unable to agree on how to conduct the vote. The dispute shows the extent of distrust between the country\’s main political leaders.
Somalia\’s transitional government owes its survival to the Ugandan and Burundian troops of the African Union force, currently more than 7,000 soldiers. The force will soon number 8,000 with the imminent arrival of an additional battalion from Burundi.