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Sudan backs away from statement on South Sudan force

Source: Reuters - Tue, 7 Jan 2014 16:06 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Sudan rows back from saying joint force under discussion

* South Sudan is battling armed rebellion

KHARTOUM, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Sudan backed away on Tuesday from comments that South Sudan had requested talks on the deployment of a joint force to protect its oil-producing regions.

The comments had come after talks in South Sudan's capital Juba on Monday between Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.

South Sudan, the world's youngest country which split from Sudan in 2011, is battling an armed rebellion by forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti said after Bashir's return to Khartoum on Monday that the two neighbours had discussed "the deployment of joint forces to secure oil areas in South Sudan". Juba had proposed the idea, he said.

But the foreign ministry in Khartoum issued a statement on Tuesday denying media reports saying that the matter had been discussed, according to the official Sudanese news agency SUNA.

It added that, based on a request from the Juba government, Sudan would prepare a mission of 900 technicians ready to go to work in South Sudan's oil fields in case their help is needed.

South Sudanese government and rebel representatives were meeting in neighbouring Ethiopia on Tuesday to try to negotiate an end to weeks of fighting that has killed at least 1,000 people and driven 200,000 from their homes.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 after a referendum that ended two decades of civil war between the north and south.

The prospect of security cooperation between the two countries would represent an improvement in ties, after they came close to conflict again in disputes over oil fees and the border in the early part of 2012.

Landlocked South Sudan pays fees to Sudan to pipe its crude oil to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, making the oil an important source of income for both states.

The Khartoum foreign ministry reported that Bashir had said South Sudan could benefit from Sudan's experience in securing its borders with Chad, Ethipoia and Eritrea using joint patrols.

Similar patrols could be used to guard the border between Sudan and South Sudan "at a later date and after the end of the current, exceptional circumstances", it said. (Writing by Tom Perry in Cairo; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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