, WASHINGTON, May 23 – The United States urged Sudan on Monday to withdraw its forces from the flashpoint town of Abyei and warned their presence would jeopardize US efforts to normalize ties with Khartoum.
Princeton Lyman, the US envoy for Sudan, said the "occupation" of Abyei by northern troops was "an extremely disproportionate response by the government of Sudan" to an attack on a UN convoy escorting the troops last week.
"We think those (northern) forces should be withdrawn," Lyman told reporters as Abyei was ablaze with gunmen looting properties after its capture by northern troops.
Abyei\’s capture, 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 Sudan.
Soon-to-be independent south Sudan also claims Abyei district, which has a special status under a 2005 peace deal that ended 22 years of civil war, and has called the occupation "illegal."
Lyman deplored the "very serious violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," a 2005 deal.
"It certainly jeopardizes the process of negotiation that has been underway to resolve the remaining issues before the south becomes independent on July 9," he said.
In a January referendum that marked the centrepiece of the peace agreement, mainly non-Muslim and African southern Sudanese overwhelmingly voted to secede from the Arab and Muslim government in Khartoum.
A parallel referendum was to have taken place in Abyei, but north and south disputed voter eligibility in a border region split between the southern-backed Dinka Ngok people and northern-supported Misseriya Arab cattle herders.
Lyman said Misseriya people have been seen in Abyei since northern forces captured the town, but added it was premature to know whether they aim to settle there.
Lyman said the occupation of Abyei would "complicate" US efforts to normalize relations with the government of Sudan in the north.
"We had started the process, as you know, of looking at how to take them off the list of state sponsors of terrorism," Lyman said.
He said Washington was working with the World Bank on whether to relieve Sudan\’s debt, estimated at $38 billion, and was considering naming a full ambassador in Khartoum after July 9.
"All of these are important steps of normalization. They can\’t be fulfilled if we don\’t have a successful CPA… If we don\’t have Abyei being negotiated, rather than occupied, it\’ll be hard to move forward on those items," he added.
Sudan was designated as a state sponsor of terror in 1993 because of its alleged links to international violent extremist groups.
Countries on the blacklist are not eligible for American aid or for US arms purchases, and bilateral trade is restricted.
The United States has posted a charge d\’affaires in Khartoum since it removed its ambassador there in 1998 following bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
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