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Sudan, South Sudan meet for AU-led peace talks

Envoys from Sudan and South Sudan met for African Union-brokered peace talks in the Ethiopian capital Tuesday, the first negotiations since deadly border clashes erupted last month in the worst fighting since South Sudan's July 2011 independence.

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AFP - Top negotiators for Sudan and South Sudan met Tuesday for their first talks since deadly border fighting last month took them to the brink of war, even as Juba accused Khartoum of fresh air strikes.

Teams from both sides are in the Ethiopian capital to restart the African Union-led talks which were stalled by heavy clashes last month, the worst fighting since the South won independence last July.

Khartoum stressed its "commitment to reach a negotiated settlement to all issues of differences" and promised "its full adherence to peace and stability between the two countries," it said in a statement released as talks began.

Sudan added it hoped the talks would mark a "new chapter" in relations "away from conflict and warring."

Southern President Salva Kiir said ahead of the talks that "amicable dialogue on the outstanding issues with Khartoum is the only option for peace."

The UN Security Council earlier this month ordered both sides to cease fighting and return to talks or face possible sanctions.

Idriss Mohammed Abdel Qadir from Khartoum and Pagan Amum from Juba began the talks - mediated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, and also attended by the US special envoy on Sudan, Princeton Lyman.

However, Amum said Sudanese war planes bombed border areas in three Southern states -- Unity, Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal -- for the fourth straight day.

"Today as we speak they bombed us," Amum told reporters hours before the talks started. However, he had earlier said he was optimistic the meeting would produce results.

"We are expecting everything to be good, it depends on the other side," Amum said.

Sudan has denied attacking the South and the raids could not be confirmed independently. Khartoum has in turn accused the South of alleged cross-border incursions, which it said broke the UN order to halt hostilities.

Khartoum, in an apparent peace gesture, has promised to end a year-long occupation of the contested Abyei region, a Lebanon-sized area whose ownership is a key issue for Juba and Khartoum.

Sudanese troops stormed the region in May 2011, forcing some 110,000 people to flee southwards, where the majority remains in impoverished camps.

"Sudan decided to redeploy the troops out of Abyei area to offer a good environment for the talks," Sudanese army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad said in a statement, although adding that Khartoum wanted a "guarantee" the territory is theirs.

Abyei was to have held a referendum in January 2011 on whether it belonged with the north or South, but that ballot was stalled over disagreement on who could vote, and Juba is highly unlikely to agree to relinquish its claim.

But Amum accused Khartoum not honouring its pledge and said that Sudanese troops remained in Abyei, calling for international action against Sudan.

"We call on the Security Council and the AU to take measures against the Republic of Sudan," he said before the talks, without elaborating.

"We will put a clear list... of violations by the government of Sudan, including their failure to withdraw their forces from Abyei," he said.

Khartoum has said "security issues should be addressed first," according to the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC), which is close to the security apparatus, adding that it is unhappy with Southern maps marking contested regions as their territory.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July after a 2005 peace deal ended one of Africa's longest civil wars, which killed about two million people.

But tensions soon flared again over a series of unresolved issues, including the border, the future of disputed territories and oil.

The South separated with about 75 percent of the former united Sudan's oil production, but Juba still depends on the north's pipeline and Red Sea port to export its crude.

A protracted dispute over fees for use of that infrastructure led South Sudan in January to shut its oil production after accusing the north of theft.

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