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Relations between North and South Sudan deteriorating amid rebel violence

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Tim Freccia/AP

(Read caption) A UNMIS peacekeeper patrol on APC in Abyei, South Sudan on March 11. Scores of villagers have died in recent fighting in South Sudan despite the presence of 10,000 UN troops mandated with protecting civilians. Now, internal documents say UN officials have ordered the peacekeepers not to operate in an area where civilians are at risk in upcoming battles, after being asked to avoid the region by the south's military.

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Border relations between North and South Sudan have not been very smooth of late.

This weekend, there was an overnight raid by a southern militia on South Sudanese army forces stationed in the strategic South Sudanese town of Malakal, which the army immediately blamed on the Khartoum government. Then, a top South Sudanese government official announced the suspension of talks with the north’s ruling National Congress Party, accusing the northern government of backing the rebel militia responsible for some of the instability that has rocked the oil-rich south in the month since the results of its independence referendum were announced.

On Tuesday, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who leads a panel of former African heads of states supporting the North-South negotiations, traveled to Juba to meet with South Sudan's leader Salva Kiir, presumably to encourage the south's ruling party to resume contact with the Khartoum government. After this meeting, Mr. Mbeki told reporters that he was optimistic that the two sides could find common ground and resolve the array of complex "post-independence" issues before July. Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the US government's liaison to the north-south talks, was also in Juba pushing similar messages.

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