| Khartoum says ruling Southern party SPLM breached a peace deal by openly campaigning for secession [AFP]
Sudan's president has accused the country's southern autonomous leadership of breaching terms of a peace deal, warning that a conflict could re-erupt if the two sides did not settle disputes before a referendum on the south's secession, state media reported.
The remarks from Omar Hassan al-Bashir raised the stakes in a war of words between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the south's governing party.
Bashir said he was still committed to holding the vote on the south's independence, which is set to take place on January 9, but insisted both sides first had to settle differences over the position of their shared border and how to share oil, debt and Nile river water.
"He [Bashir] said a new conflict between the north and south will ensue if there was a failure to address these issues before the referendum and that such a conflict could be more dangerous than the one that took place before the peace agreement," Suna reported, referring to a speech Bashir gave on Saturday.
The country's central government and former southern rebels, which now rule over the region, were engaged in two decades of civil war, in which two million people died. The conflict ended five years ago with a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
In talks with a visiting UN delegation on Saturday, Ali Karti, Sudan's foreign minister, renewed Khartoum's criticism of southern leaders for openly campaigning for independence, saying that this was a "clear breach" of the 2005 peace deal.
Bashir delivered Saturday's speech as envoys from the UN Security Council wrapped up a visit to Sudan aimed at pressing both sides to hold the vote on time and avert a new civil war.
Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the Security Council delegation, told Sudan's foreign minister that the international community was "deeply concerned" about stability in Sudan, where the world's largest UN peacekeeping presence is located.
He said full implementation of the 2005 peace agreement was "essential to sustain peace and stability throughout Sudan."
Susan Rice, Washington's UN ambassador, stressed the need for an accord on the status of the oil-rich Abyei region straddling north and south.
"Abyei is obviously a critical issue among many that needs to be resolved going forward, and that is why the United States at the request of both parties has been hosting for the last several days intense discussions in Addis Ababa to try to resolve the crucial issues related to conduct the referendum in Abyei on time," Rice said.
Arab League backing
Meanwhile, Arab League leaders voiced their support for the referendum on Saturday at the end of a summit in Libya.
In a final statement read by Amr Mussa, the bloc's secretary general, the group affirmed "its solidarity with Sudan and emphasises the necessity of respecting its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, and supports efforts to achieve peace" in the country.
The committee of foreign ministers of Arab States also pledged to work closely with the African Union and the UN to help Sudan organise the referendum and ensure that it is held in a "peaceful, free, credible and transparent manner".