February 22, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The Blue Nile government has dismissed rumours about the fall of Kurmuk town on the border with Ethiopia, saying it remains in the hands of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), following the recent clashes in the Sudanese state’s south-east.
The Sudanese army attacked the positions of the SPLM-N in Blue Niles’ Mafo last week but admitted that its troops had pulled out of the area, amidst rebel claims they had defeated the army before pursuing its troops to the outskirts of the city.
The spokesperson of the Blue Nile state government, Kamal Khalaf Allah, told Ashrooq TV that reports of rebels advancing towards Kurmuk are “unfounded rumours and media hype”, asserting the government’s readiness to repel any attack.
The head of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the Blue Nile, Abdel-Rahman Bou-Midian, told the private TV channel that what happened in Mafo is “a normal hit and run operation” and vowed to retake the area from the rebels.
The SPLM-N announced that its secretary-general, Yasir Arman, will lead a negotiating delegation to Addis Ababa where African Union-led mediation team intends to organise direct talks between the two parties on 15 March to discuss a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Khartoum did not yet say whether it would participate or not in the first direct political talks with the SPLM-N as it has previously demanded that Juba should disengage with the latter before engaging in negotiations.
However, analysts in Khartoum agree that the recent surge of violence is a prelude to negotiations between Khartoum and the SPLM-N, saying every side tries to strengthen its positions on the ground before talks.
Kurmuk has changed hands several times between the SPLM-N and the Sudanese army (SAF) in the past, with Sudanese troops remaining in control of a number of important areas in Blue Nile state, where fighting flared in September 2011, shortly after the South seceded from its northern neighbour in July.