Obama Urges Ceasefire in Sudan's South Kordofan

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President Barack Obama called Wednesday for an immediate ceasefire in Sudan's South Kordofan state, where he said the situation is "dire" with government forces accused of ethnic cleansing.

Heavy fighting in the run-up to south Sudan's declaration of independence on July 9 has pitted government troops and allied militias against forces aligned with the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

The fighting threatens to torpedo the U.S.-brokered 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended a 22-year civil war between forces of the northern-based government of Sudan and the SPLA.

"The situation in Southern Kordofan is dire, with deeply disturbing reports of attacks based on ethnicity," Obama said in a statement.

Both parties must now "end the current violence and allow immediate humanitarian access to desperate people who have been driven from their homes and are now cut off from outside help," the U.S. president said.

Church leaders and activists say the northern army's campaign forms part of a government policy of ethnic cleansing, targeting the state's indigenous Nuba peoples who fought with the SPLA during the 1983-2005 civil war.

Khartoum strongly rejects allegations of ethnic cleansing and insists it is protecting civilians in South Kordofan, the north's only oil-producing state.

It is the second major conflict in the central border area in less than a month, after the northern army occupied the contested Abyei region, on May 21, forcing some 113,000 residents there to flee south, according to U.N. estimates.

However, leaders from the north and south clinched an agreement on Monday to demilitarize Abyei and allow in Ethiopian peacekeepers working for the United Nations.

"I commend the parties for taking this step forward toward peace, and I urge them now to build on that progress and agree to an immediate ceasefire in Southern Kordofan," Obama said.

Obama condemned "in particular the Sudanese Armed Forces' aerial bombardment of civilians...," according to the statement.

"With a ceasefire in Southern Kordofan, alongside the agreement to deploy peacekeepers to Abyei, we can get the peace process back on track," he said.

"But without these actions, the roadmap for better relations with the government of Sudan cannot be carried forward, which will only deepen Sudan’s isolation in the international community."

The Obama administration has held out the prospect of normalizing relations with the Sudanese government, including removing it from a blacklist of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism.

Meanwhile, the State Department updated its travel warning from January.

It urged Americans to "avoid travel to the border areas between the northern and southern regions of Sudan, particularly the states of Upper Nile, Unity, Western Bar el Ghazai, Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile," and the Abyei region.

It also urged Americans to avoid all travel to the conflict-torn Darfur region in the west as well as to the southern capital of Juba, where it said the risks of violent crime were high.

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