‘Slow and uneven’ progress as Bashir and Kiir meet in Addis
The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan met in the Ethiopian capital on Saturday for the first time since the two countries went to battle over the Heglig oil field in April. Their negotiators have made ‘slow and uneven’ progress in peace talks since the April crisis, said the African Union Commission in a report released the same day.
Brinksmanship over the shuttered oil pipelines and the war of attrition from Kafia Kingi in the west to Blue Nile in the east appears to have come to a head, with economies of both countries teetering on collapse and social unrest in the capitals. The meeting of the Sudans’ two presidents Salva Kiir and Omar Al Bashir on Saturday marked a milestone in the talks but the exact outcome of the meeting is still unclear.
Both presidents delivered speeches Saturday during the Heads of State Meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council. They met that evening at the Sheraton Hotel, at first with aides present, then alone. They appeared together after the meeting smiling and shaking hands.
In a formal report released Saturday, the African Union Commission described ‘slow and uneven’ progress in peace talks since the two sides backed down from full-scale war along the Kordofan-Unity State frontier in late April. At the height of that crisis, the African Union Peace and Security Council condemned South Sudan for invading the critical Heglig oil field and adopted a ‘roadmap’ for easing tensions between the two countries. This decision was endorsed days later by the UN Security Council which gave the two sides a deadline of 2 August to reach a deal.
Both the North and South have committed in principle to the roadmap and resumed negotiations under the mediation of the AU High Implementation Panel, a group of mediators led by Thabo Mbeki. According to Jean Ping, AU Commission Chairman and titular author of the report released Saturday, negotiators in early July committed to “a new spirit of strategic partnership” underpinned by “an unequivocal agreement never to resort to force to resolve their differences.”
Jean Ping stated that the African Union mediators led by Thabo Mbeki had received assurances from Sudanese and South Sudanese negotiators that “this new strategic approach had been fully endorsed by the entire leadership of both countries, and that they would return to negotiations on all outstanding issues, with a view to reaching a comprehensive agreement by 2 August 2012.”
‘No new discussions on oil’
The April oil war was only the culminating instance of a prolonged and vicious fraternal struggle between the two co-dependent nations. From the birth of the independent South Sudan in July 2011, the vital oil economy was caught in a back-and-forth feud over pipeline tariffs and massive arrears claims. In December 2011, the cash-strapped Northern government seized Southern oil at Port Sudan in lieu of arrears payments.
Inauspicious negotiations followed. Thabo Mbeki’s mediators in January 2012 scrambled to dissuade South Sudan from retaliating by shutting down oil production, introducing a ‘Cover Agreement’ to temporarily settle the matter of pipeline tariffs and arrears. The proposal failed. In the months since, both governments have found themselves running out of hard currency and increasingly desperate to force the other party into a weaker position from which to reach an agreement.
Border clashes, deep austerity cuts, and preparations for broader hostilities have preoccupied national leaders. “Since February, no new discussions on oil and related payments have been held. The Parties have now agreed to resume negotiations on this issue,” the AU noted in its report Saturday.
Wild card: SPLM-North
The disclosure suggests the extent to which talks have floundered over security issues rather than moving to the economic heart of the proposed agreement. South Sudan’s former 9th and 10th Divisions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, now ‘SPLM/A-North,’ allied themselves with Darfur insurgents last November, forming the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF).
Although the rebels maintain a revolutionary rhetoric to overthrow the Government of Sudan, a number of factors have brought them back to the negotiating table: the end of dry season fighting, the threat of famine, and international pressure. Earlier this month SRF leaders Malik Agar and Yasser Arman met French officials at the Élysée Palace. The SPLM-North “has accepted to restart the dialogue that had begun in June 2011,” reports the AU Commission. “The Government of Sudan has indicated an in‐principle acceptance of dialogue. The Panel is taking the necessary steps in this regard.”
Diplomats are being careful to label South Sudan’s allies in Blue Nile and South Kordofan as ‘SPLM-North’, rather than SRF or its cognomen ‘Kauda Alliance’, which would associate the border-state rebels with the hard-line Darfur groups that for nine years have waged war on the Government of Sudan. Formally, the insurgencies in the two border states are treated as “an internal matter to the Republic of Sudan” – but practically, a resolution of the North-South conflict will be extremely difficult without some buy-in from the Northern armed opposition. Last week, in an apparently conciliatory move, Khartoum allowed opposition lawyers to access SPLM-linked prisoners from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, some of whom have been detained for more than a year without trial. In another development, the government revoked death sentences on seven Darfur rebels and released them from a prison in Port Sudan.
In spite of the SRF rebels, Sudan and South Sudan have made marginal progress in recent border and security talks. The negotiators have agreed to terms for a joint military observation committee for the disputed Abyei region. They have nominated border monitors for a separate commission for other parts of the border. And they agreed in late June to send these observers to a temporary headquarters in Assosa, Ethiopia.
Presidents direct negotiators to reach agreement
South Sudan’s top negotiator, Pagan Amum, said Saturday that the presidential meeting had gone well. “The two presidents have agreed and instructed their negotiating teams to expedite negotiations and develop bold decisions in key areas as well as to reach agreements in all issues,” Amum said in Addis Ababa, as reported by Reuters.
Amum’s remarks suggest that Kiir and Bashir, bowing to internal and external pressures, have given new impetus to the talks. He explained that South Sudan is ready to resume oil exports if offered “a fair deal” on pipeline tariffs and guarantees that oil will not be diverted illegally.
Few additional details emerged from Sudanese media reports. Sudan’s state radio cited Bashir’s speech at the African Union demanding cessation of hostilities and security guarantees in return for access to the port of export on the Red Sea.
Norway’s Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Endre Stiansen, told Reuters that nothing new was on the negotiating table but that proposals were in place to be acted on. “If they want to move, they can move,” said the diplomat.
(Writing by Daniel van Oudenaren for Radio Tamazuj)
Photo: President Omar Al Bashir with President Salva Kiir on 4 January 2011 in Juba, six months before the South’s independence (Radio Tamazuj)
Additional reading: Report of the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Implementation of the Peace and Security Council Communiqué PSC/MIN/COMM/3.(CCCXIX) of 24 April 2012 on the Situation between Sudan and South Sudan
Article source: http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/33343