Sudan, S. Sudan leaders in deal over Abyei and borders
What you need to know:
Referendum has been repeatedly stalled, with residents now threatening to press ahead
Area patrolled by about 4,000 troops from Ethiopia is still a major thorn in ties
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his Sudan counterpart, Omar al Bashir, agreed at a summit in Juba today to speed up the demarcation of their common borders and the formation of the Abyei administration, including the Abyei area legislative council and the police.
The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to fully and unconditionally implement the nine cooperation agreements signed in September 2012 in Addis Ababa.
Mr Kiir and Bashir resolved to speed up the creation of a zero line along their common borders in order to establish a safe border zone.
The two also agreed to campaign for Sudan’s debt relief and lifting of sanctions.
In a joint communique, Mr Kiir and Mr Bashir directed the central banks of the two countries to facilitate trade.
President Bashir visited South Sudan in response to Mr Kiir’s invitation, for his second time after the independence of the infant country on July 9, 2011.
After two decades of civil war, the former foes are yet to resolve a package of post secession issues that include border demarcation, the status of the disputed Abyei region, security and oil flow, among others.
“I think the most critical issue that we have been talking about, like Abyei, is one of the urgent things that we have to address, and we know we will address it,” Mr Kiir said at a joint press conference.
“We are ready to go the extra mile to make peace with Sudan,” Mr Kiir told his northern counterpart and former civil war foe Bashir.
Tensions have been mounting over disputed Abyei, a war-ravaged region wedged between the two countries and claimed by both sides, with the African Union urging leaders to “seize the opportunity” to find a deal.
MOST CRITICAL ISSUES DISCUSSED
But while Kiir said Abyei was the “most critical” issue discussed, little concrete progress was announced.
“The meeting with my brother Salva Kiir was fruitful.... We will make sure all the outstanding issues are implemented,” Mr Bashir said.
Mr Kiir warmly welcomed Bashir.
The leaders, who were bitter enemies during the two-decade civil war that led to South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, embraced as they met.
Abyei was meant to vote on whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan in January 2011 — the same day Juba voted overwhelmingly to split from the north — as part of the 2005 peace deal which ended Sudan’s civil war.
But that referendum has been repeatedly stalled, with residents now threatening to press ahead and organise their own vote.
The United Nations and AU have warned that any such unilateral move could inflame tensions in the oil-producing zone and risk destabilising the uneasy peace between the longtime foes.
Many are gloomy for a quick resolution.
“I think there isn’t a solution in sight for quite a long time,” a Western diplomat said, but added there was a need at least to show some progress, “otherwise people get desperate.”
Abyei, patrolled by about 4,000 Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers, is home to the settled Ngok Dinka, closely connected to South Sudan, as well the semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya, who traditionally move back and forth between the two countries grazing their cattle.
“Both governments have important constituencies that they need to pacify,” making the issue very difficult to solve, the diplomat said.
Senior leaders of the Ngok Dinka said last week they will organise and run their own referendum, saying international efforts had stalled and there was “no light at the end of the tunnel”.
In response, Misseriya chief Mukhtar Babo Nimir said the Dinka move must be blocked, warning that his people also have the option of holding their own unilateral ballot.
DEAL STILL UNIMPLEMENTED
Trade, security and oil issues were also on the presidents’ agenda for the one-day visit, with more than 50 officials including senior ministers and businessmen accompanying Bashir.
Bashir and Kiir had met for talks in Sudan last month, while Bashir last visited South Sudan in April, his first visit since independence and which followed a furious row over the shutdown of crucial oil exports as well as bloody border battles last year.
When South Sudan split away, it took with it oil fields accounting for 75 per cent of the reserves — with production totalling some 470,000 barrels per day — that Sudan used to call its own.
Landlocked South Sudan complained that the north was demanding too much to use its pipelines and port facilities, and the shutdown cost both countries billions of dollars.
Battles along the two nations’ un-demarcated border last year involving warplanes and troops then aggravated the situation and raised fears of a return to the level of violence seen in the 1983-2005 civil war.
International pressure eventually reined the two sides back in, with leaders signing a raft of deals, most of which however are yet to be implemented.
BY MACHEL AMOS (NATION Correspondent IN JUBA) AND Agencies