Southern Sudan's VP to travel to Khartoum

Southern Sudan's vice president traveled Saturday to Khartoum to meet northern officials in a bid to defuse tensions sparked by the north's takeover of a disputed border region, an official said.

Vice President Riek Machar's trip will be the first known high-level endeavor by the south to peacefully end the north-south row that started when the northern army seized control of the disputed Abyei region a week ago.

North and south Sudan ended more than two decades of civil war in 2005 with a peace deal that promised both Abyei and the south a self-determination vote.

The south voted overwhelmingly in January to secede and becomes an independent nation July 9. Abyei's vote never happened, so its future is being negotiated by the north and south.

Machar will meet with northern officials and the Abyei area will be part of discussions, said Southern Sudan's presidential spokesman Mangar Amerdid. Amerdid did not offer further details.

Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir has already ruled out a return to war and urged the north to withdraw its forces from Abyei. Southern officials are fearful that if fresh confrontations erupt between the two regions it could help derail the south's upcoming independence.

Northern Sudanese tanks rolled into the town of Abyei on May 21, scattering southern troops that were there as part of a joint security unit. The U.N. compound was also hit with mortar fire, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said two U.N. peacekeepers were wounded.

The seizure of Abyei followed an attack on a convoy of northern soldiers by southern forces on May 19 and two days of aerial bombardment of the area by the north.

The northern takeover has displaced tens of thousands of civilians who now live in squalid conditions in southern villages.

In Wau, one of the biggest towns in Southern Sudan, only one petrol station was still running with only 150 barrels of gas left.

Station owner Bol Ahol Ngor said northern soldiers had turned back trucks bringing gas from the border area, even days before the northern army rolled into Abyei.

Ngor said his current supply came from Kenya, Sudan's neighbor to the south, where the transportation of the petrol cost almost four times what it would from Khartoum.

Deng Alor, the foreign minister of Southern Sudan, on Saturday urged the U.N. to double its efforts to provide aid to the displaced people because he said the tension between the north and south could drag on.


Associated Press reporter Maggie Fick in Wau, Sudan contributed to this report.