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US envoy: Sudan demands block S. Sudan peace deal

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MICHAEL ONYIEGO | December 14, 2012 12:39 PM EST | AP

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JUBA, South Sudan — New security demands raised by Sudan are blocking the implementation of a peace and security deal between Sudan and South Sudan, the U.S. special envoy said Friday during his last official visit to the region.

Princeton Lyman's comments come three days before the stalled negotiations over security along the two countries' north-south border restart at the African Union in Ethiopia. Negotiators from both sides are trying to agree on how to demilitarize the shared border.

Demilitarization was a key component of a Sept. 27 deal reached in Ethiopia following nearly eight months of conflict and tension surrounding the countries' shared oil industries. In January, South Sudan accused Khartoum of stealing its oil and stopped pumping it through Sudanese pipelines. In April, the two countries openly clashed over the disputed Heglig oil region.

The September agreement was supposed to see the ill-defined border delineated, and the resumption of oil production and exports. But nearly three months on, little progress has been made.

"We had high hopes for those agreements," said Lyman.

The talks between Sudan and South Sudan have been monitored by the United Nations Security Council since before the September agreement was reached, and Lyman said that U.N. sanctions were "still on the table" if an agreement isn't found.

Both sides agreed to withdraw troops 6 miles (10 kilometers) from either side of the border while allowing an Ethiopian force to monitor the zone. At the press conference Friday, Lyman pointed a finger at Khartoum – the capital of Sudan – for that lack of progress.

"I am troubled by the fact that in starting the implementation of the security mechanisms that Khartoum has raised a number of new requests and demands and linked the resumption of oil to satisfaction of those demands," he said.

The biggest issue for Khartoum has been South Sudan's support for the SPLM-North, a rebel group that is fighting government forces in Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Representatives from Sudan have asked Juba to provide assurances that they will not further support the rebels before Sudanese troops withdraw from the border.

But Lyman said the new demands were not helpful. "We think the security issues are best addressed in the agreements already reached."

The SPLM-North was once part of the South Sudanese army, during its decades-long civil war with Khartoum, which ended in 2005. When South Sudan peacefully broke away from Khartoum last year following a referendum, the SPLM-North forces were left on Sudan's side of the border. South Sudan has repeatedly denied support for the northern rebels, and South Sudan President Salva Kiir has called Khartoum's demand that South Sudan disarm the rebels "an impossible mission."

The U.S. envoy will travel to the Ethiopian capital for the Monday talks, which are hosted by the African Union and led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Lyman urged South Sudan to manage its resources with great care, but also announced that the U.S. government aid arm, USAID, will sign an agreement next week to release the first of $230 million in assistance for agriculture, infrastructure, education and technical assistance.

Lyman, who has served as envoy to Sudan region for two years, is set to step down after the New Year. Asked if he thought talks between the neighbors would eventually succeed, he said: "I can't promise anything, but I'm hopeful."