U.S. sees Sudan 'back from brink' but food crisis looms
Wed Mar 14, 2012 5:02pm GMT
* Clooney star power highlights humanitarian crisis
* U.S. says could take months for oil revenues to resume
* U.S. says ready to help 250,000 facing food shortages
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, March 14 (Reuters) - Sudan and South Sudan have stepped back
from the brink of all-out confrontation and the world community should seize
on this to win humanitarian access to food-starved regions and press for
broader reconciliation, senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
Princeton Lyman, the top Obama administration official for Sudan, said
Tuesday's announcement that Sudan President Omar al-Bashir would visit South
Sudan in coming weeks could signal a new phase between two uneasy neighbors
seen at risk of reigniting one of Africa's bloodiest wars.
"The two countries decided to step back from the brink. They looked at each
other and said we are going in the wrong direction," Lyman told the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee.
"We have seen these recommitments before. So while we take a great deal of
hope from them, a lot will depend on what happens over the next several
Thursday's testimony also featured Hollywood star George Clooney - a
longtime activist on the Sudan issue - who said Washington must get tough on
Bashir and two other Sudanese officials indicted by the International
Criminal Court as part of an investigation into atrocities in Darfur from
August 2003 to March 2004.
Clooney said violence between Sudanese soldiers and rebels aligned with
South Sudan in border areas including South Kordofan's Nuba mountains
involved repeated attacks on unarmed civilians who already face a serious
"They are proving themselves to be the greatest war criminals of this
century, by far," Clooney told the panel, calling for increased U.S. efforts
to find and freeze offshore accounts of indicted Sudanese officials.
Clooney, who recently returned from the Nuba mountains region, showed
senators a video detailing the grim humanitarian conditions of a population
fighting for survival while under attacks from bombs and missiles.
The United States worked hard to set the groundwork for South Sudan's
independence from Khartoum last year, which capped a 2005 peace deal that
ended their long civil war.
But the two sides remain locked in disputes over issues including the
position of their border, control of the disputed Abyei territory, and what
transit fees South Sudan pays its northern neighbor to export oil from Port
Tensions have been further exacerbated since South Sudan shut down all its
oil fields in January in protest of Khartoum's seizure of crude it said was
to make up for unpaid fees.
Juba depends on oil sales for 98 percent of state revenues, but says it will
not restart production until a deal is reached. Khartoum is also heavily
reliant on oil, and both countries face a deepening economic crisis.
Lyman said he was hopeful the new talks between Bashir and South Sudan
President Salva Kiir would improve the overall situation, but even if a deal
on oil is reached it could take up to four months for oil revenues to flow.
"The feeling now is that if you started production tomorrow by the time you
got the pumps going, the time you sent the oil up through the pipeline, made
the contracts, sent the oil, it would be four months until the first dollar
would come in and that is worrisome," Lyman said.
Lyman said the United States would now step up work with other countries
including Arab states and China, which is the biggest buyer of Sudanese oil,
to pressure both sides into a workable deal with promises of future economic
"I think we can do more to bring that part of the international community
together because Sudan does face this very serious international crisis and
there's only one way out of it."
U.S. officials and aid experts have warned that as many as 250,000 people in
the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile border states could be on the brink of
famine by the end of April and have demanded Khartoum stop blocking
humanitarian access and allow aid groups in.
Nancy Lindborg, a senior official at the U.S. Agency for International
Development, said the United States hoped that the new agreements due to be
signed during Bashir's trip would open the door to the worst-hit regions.
"If necessary we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese
humanitarian actors," Lindborg said, without providing details. "We stand
ready to immediately deliver food and humanitarian assistance to those in
need." (Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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Received on Wed Mar 14 2012 - 16:59:50 EDT