Khartoum and Juba in talks over pending issues

Saturday February 13 2016

An aerial view of Banton Bridge in the contentious Abyei region. FILE PHOTO | AFP

An aerial view of Banton Bridge in the contentious Abyei region. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

By FRED OLUOCH

Sudan and South Sudan are working on a formula to resolve the outstanding issues of the 2005 agreement.

Under discussion is the Co-operation Agreement signed in September 2012, which addressed security arrangements and non-aggression; border demarcation; wealth sharing and economic co-operation; oil wealth-sharing and the establishment of the Abyei Administration. The resolution of these issues was disrupted by the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in December 2013.

According to South Sudan ambassador to Kenya Mariano Deng, seven out of the nine areas of agreement are being implemented and what is currently under discussion is border demarcation and the Abyei referendum. “The remaining issues of the border and Abyei will soon be resolved,” he said.  

The implementation of the security arrangement and non-aggression has already seen positive developments in the two countries. Sudan opened its border with its southern neighbour for the first time in five years while South Sudan has withdrawn its troops 8km from the border.

While South Sudan is struggling to appease several armed groups that feel left out of the Compromise Agreement signed in August last year, Sudan is striving to stamp out rebellion by the SPLM-North in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation told The EastAfrican that the closure of the border was seriously hurting the economies of the two countries because South Sudan is the largest market for goods from Sudan.

The two countries agreed that Juba will supply Khartoum with free oil to cover for the arrears of the $25 per barrel oil transmission fees that have accumulated due to the fall in global oil prices and the civil war.

South Sudan will supply Sudan with 18,000 barrels of crude oil per day for the power plant in the White Nile State, and 10,000 barrels for Port Sudan refinery. . South Sudan currently produces 165,000 barrels per day, down from 350,000 barrels before the outbreak of the civil war.

Nile water transport has also been opened for trade in foodstuff, clothing and building materials.

According to the Sudanese ambassador to Kenya Elsadig Abdalla Elias the two countries have opened a new chapter in their relations. He said the main reason why Sudan closed its border was out of concern for security but now the Security Monitoring Committee has taken up its role.

Other benefits are the increased flow of trade, families that were divided by the border after secession can now have contact with each other and humanitarian agencies can reach those affected by either drought or civil war in both countries.

“The most important thing is the change of attitude towards each other given that cross-border trade was seriously affected. We are hopeful that the remaining issues will be resolved soon,” he said.

The remaining challenges are the demarcation of 2,000km in a region that is home to about a third of the population of the two countries. There is also the issue of the oil-rich Abyei region, which often raises tensions between the two countries.

While the Abyei Administration has been put in place headed by Commissioner Chol Deng Alak, the issue of when to hold the referendum as per the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement remains contentious.

The referendum was scheduled for January 2011. However, differences between the two countries arose, with Juba insisting that only the indigenous Ngok Dinka were entitled to vote while Khartoum wanted the nomadic Misseriya to participate.