Sudan talks get under way in Ethiopia

, ADDIS ABABA, Nov 6 – Officials from both sides of Sudan and the international community began talks in the Ethiopian capital on Saturday aimed at agreeing a frontier ahead of a referendum on independence for the south.

Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union\’s top peace and security official, said in an address to the opening of the meeting that time was fast running out on for the organisers of the referendum.

"There are just 66 days to go before the referendum in southern Sudan, and nine days before the registration of the voters will begin. There is no time to waste," he said.

In a planned ballot already beset by logistical problems, voters in the south are set to decide on January 9 whether to opt for secession or stay in a united Sudan.

The referendum in southern Sudan and the oil-rich Abyei region straddling north and south are part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade-old civil war in Sudan which left an estimated two million dead.

Plans for the referendum have been dogged by disagreements, in particular on the demarcation of the proposed border between north and south, the status of disputed Abyei, and security issues.

The meeting was also scheduled to discuss the security situation in the western province of Darfur.

"The government must commit to significant concession in the negotiation, and in the meantime implement measures inside Darfur including addressing the problem of informal militias, arbitrary arrests, excessive powers afforded under the emergency law," said Alain Le Roy, the United Nation\’s top peacekeeping official.

Neither Sudan\’s President Omar al-Bashir nor Salva Kiir, the southern leader, were attending the meeting, which included former South African president Thabo Mbeki, the head of the UN mission in Sudan Haile Menkurios and the UN special representative on Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari.

Mbeki is head of the AU panel on Sudan.