AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Friday 28 September 2012
ADDIS ABABA: Sudan and South Sudan agreed security and oil deals on Thursday, drawing praise and relief from the international community for easing back tensions after coming close to war in April.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said the agreement “brings to an end the long conflict between our two countries,” while his counterpart Omar Al-Bashir said he would “seize the historic opportunity and journey toward building peace.”
The leaders signed a “cooperation agreement” after marathon talks in the Ethiopian capital that began on Sunday, a day after the rivals missed a UN Security Council deadline to reach an accord.
However, the former civil war foes — who came close to renewed all-out war earlier this year — failed to strike a deal on the flashpoint region of Abyei as well as other contested border areas.
The breakthrough deal was reached late Wednesday, including agreements that built on an oil deal last month, to ensure the resumption of oil exports after a stoppage that has crippled the economies of both nations.
It also included progress on a financial package of some $3 billion that Juba has offered Khartoum, in recompense for Sudan’s loss of key oil fields when the South broke free in 2011 — although exact details were not immediately released.
The deals signed include a key agreement on a demilitarised border buffer zone, where troops must withdraw 10 kilometers (six miles) from the de facto line of control along the undemarcated frontier.
The buffer zone is also designed to cut support for rebel forces in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions that Khartoum accuses Juba of backing, just as the South accuses Sudan of arming rebels in its territory.
“This agreement breaks new ground in support of the international vision of two viable states at peace with each other,” US President Barack Obama said, calling for continued dialogue as the deal is implemented.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the deal “a critical step toward the peaceful resolution of the outstanding issues,” while her British counterpart William Hague said it was a “significant stride” to help establish peace between the neighbors.
Protracted talks under African Union mediation began in Addis Ababa several months before South Sudan split in July 2011 from what was Africa’s biggest nation, following an independence vote after decades of war.
Recent mounting international pressure brought the long-running talks to a head, with teams spending the last few days and nights in frantic efforts trying to narrow positions, with mediators shuttling between them.
The UN set a deadline for a deal after border fighting broke out in March, when Southern troops briefly wrested the valuable Heglig oil field from Khartoum’s control and Sudan launched bombing raids in response.
The talks — originally billed as a one-day summit — had aimed to provide a comprehensive solution to the full range of festering disputes that took the rivals back to the brink of war.
However, the future of the contested flashpoint border region of Abyei — a Lebanon-sized border area currently controlled by Ethiopian peacekeepers — remains a key sticking point.
Kiir blamed his “brother Bashir” for the failure to reach a deal on Abyei, saying Bashir had rejected an AU proposal on the area “in its totality,” but Bashir said he was committed to finding a solution.
The African Union’s chief mediator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, also praised the deal.
“We are convinced that what has happened constitutes a giant step forward for both Sudan and South Sudan,” he said. “What this agreement says is that the governments are committed for no more war.”
Outstanding issues will be addressed during future rounds of talks, officials said.
These include the violence and growing humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Although not part of the direct talks, the two states are a source of bitterness between Khartoum and Juba, with Sudan claiming the South still backs its former civil war comrades who are rebelling there.
Oxfam said that while the agreements were “encouraging steps forward,” the lack of a solution for these crisis regions remains a major concern.