Sudan president refuses to budge over oil region

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KHARTOUM, Nov 18 (Reuters) Sudan's president said on Saturday he would not budge ''an inch'' on the contested borders of the oil-rich Abyei region.

Khartoum and former southern rebels the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) are divided over the demarcation of Abyei, the source of much of Sudan's energy reserves.

The conflict was at the heart of the SPLM's decision to withdraw its ministers from Sudan's coalition government last month that threatened a peace agreement ending Africa's longest civil war.

''We will not give an inch, not so much as an ant's body,'' President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said in a televised address yesterday in Arabic at a military rally in the town of Wad Medani.

''We say Abyei's border is the border of 1905.'' This refers to a ruling by the then British authorities that government supporters say puts all of the central Abyei region in the northern region of Kordofan.

The president also accused the West of trying to ''restart the slave trade'' by allowing groups to smuggle children out of Africa, a reference to the recent arrest of French humanitarian activists accused of abducting children in Chad.

''They take hundred of children from Chad and Darfur by planes to France. And the EU, UN, and US don't know about that? They want to restart the slave trade,'' he said.

Senior SPLM politicians last week blamed Khartoum's stance on Abyei for the break-up of talks between the sides. They said they were now waiting for the return of SPLM leader Salva Kiir from a trip to the US before pushing for more talks.

Prominent opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi last week told Reuters the Abyei issue could eventually force south Sudan to secede.

Abyei's status was left unresolved in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between Khartoum and the SPLM in 2005.

Khartoum eventually rejected the findings of an independent commission on the demarcation.

Bashir was addressing a rally to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the formation of the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), a government-aligned militia accused of carrying out war crimes by the United Nations' human rights office.

The president said he was committed to implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But twice in the speech he called on the PDF ''to open training camps and to gather mujahideen not for the sake of war but to be ready for anything.'' REUTERS SZ RN1427

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