KHARTOUM, March 20 (Reuters) - Sudan made its first offer to hold direct talks with rebels on its border with South Sudan on Wednesday.
Sudan Defence Minister Abdel Raheem Mohammed Hussein said Khartoum would be willing to have discussions with the SPLM-North rebel group in its Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, providing the dialogue was based on protocols set out in a 2005 peace agreement with South Sudan.
“We are ready to meet with the northern sector (of the SPLM), on the condition that the dialogue and discussion is based on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the protocol for the two areas as a reference,” Hussein told reporters at Khartoum’s airport on Wednesday.
Sudan has previously refused to meet the rebels and accused South Sudan of backing the SPLM-N, a former ally of the SPLM, whose decades-long war with Khartoum resulted in the 2005 peace deal and the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
The SPLM-N rebellion in Blue Nile and South Kordofan to overthrow the rule of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir began shortly after secession.
South Sudan denies backing the SPLM-N.
There was no immediate comment from the SPLM-N, but leaders have previously said they would be willing to talk to Sudanese officials in Addis Ababa, where the African Union has been brokering talks between Sudan and South Sudan.
Fighting in the two border states has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, and complicated ties between Sudan and South Sudan.
This month, the two countries agreed on a timeframe to withdraw troops from their disputed, roughly 2,000-km (1,200-mile) border, something they agreed to do in September but have failed to implement because of lingering tensions.
The withdrawal was seen as a vital first step to resuming southern oil exports through Sudan, which both countries depend on for revenue and foreign currency.
South Sudan shut off its roughly 350,000 barrel-a-day output in January last year in a dispute with Sudan over how much it should pay to send it through Sudanese pipelines to a Red Sea port.
Sudan’s north-south civil war was one of Africa’s longest and deadliest, killing some 2 million people. The war over oil, religion, ideology and identity devastated much of South Sudan and sucked in many of its neighbours. (Writing by Alexander Dziadosz, editing by Paul Casciato)