Sudan President Omer Al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir Mayardit managed, after another round of marathon talks on Wednesday, to strike a deal on border security issues but failed to do likewise on contested border regions including Abyei.
The partial deal was confirmed by both countries following the sixth closed-door meeting between the two leaders in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, which has been hosting the summit for the past five days under the mediation of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP).
Sources on both sides told Sudan Tribune that the issue of establishing a demilitarized zone along the unmarked 1,800-km common borders has been resolved after the two countries agreed to redeploy their troops out of the 10 kilometers-buffer zone which includes the “Mile 14” area, a disputed territory occupying 23 kilometers between Western Bahr El-Ghazal State in South Sudan and East Darfur State in Sudan.
Under the deal, South Sudan army known as SPLA should withdraw from six areas it controls along the borders, including “Mile 14”. Sudan army will also withdraw from “Mile 14” which, also under the deal, will revert back to being run through a traditional and joint administration system between Al-Riziygat Arab tribe of Darfur and Dinka Mulawl of South Sudan until such time that the area’s final status is determined.
The establishment of a buffer zone will enable the two countries to implement a deal they reached in August but not signed yet to resume exporting South Sudan oil via Sudan and help their contracting economies after an eight-month hiatus that saw the two neighbors fighting a brief war in April around border oilfields.
It also means great logistical difficulty for both of them to engage in supporting each others’ rebel groups across the border.
Sources told Sudan Tribune that the last hours of the meeting between Al-Bashir and Kiir on Wednesday had witnessed exchanges of tough language between the two leaders in the presence of AUHIP mediators including its chief and former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
According to sources, Al-Bashir reacted angrily to Salva Kiir when the latter insisted that the SPLA would only withdraw 10 kilometers outside of “Mile 14”, telling him “we ceded the whole south for you and you’re refusing to withdraw from [few] kilometers”
Sudanese government sources also told Sudan Tribune that President Al-Bashir is expected to travel back to Khartoum as soon as the summit concludes today.
The deal, due to be signed today, includes eight protocols on border security arrangements, oil, economic and trade issues, and the four freedoms agreement which will allow citizens of each country the freedoms of movement, property ownership, work and residence in the other country.
The implementation of those protocols should come into effect after being endorsed by the parliaments of both countries.
South Sudan Information Minister and official spokesperson, Barnaba Marial, said on Wednesday that “significant steps” had been made at the talks and agreements were reached on most of the outstanding issues.
The official confirmed that the “four-freedom” issue had already been settled. He added that only “small details” on the oil deal are left for further talks.
The two countries also agreed to implement the demarcation of their agreed borders which, according to sources from both sides, represent 80 percent of the border strip. The remaining 20 percent represents five disputed territories which are: Hofrat Al-Nuhas, Mile 14, Kaka Al-Tigaria, Al-Muqaines, and Goda.
The final status of these disputed regions will be determined either through political agreements or international arbitration.
NO AGREEMENT ON ABYEI
On the issue of Abyei, the key disputed region, no agreement was reached after Sudan strongly rejected the AUHIP proposal on holding a referendum by October 2013 to determine the final status of the area.
Whereas Juba accepted the proposal, which was handed to the two parties on 21 September, Khartoum said in a letter sent to the AUHIP that it “categorically rejects the proposal in its entirety”
Sudan based its objection to the AUHIP proposal on the fact that it conditions the eligibility to vote in the referendum on the “permanent” residence in Abyei.
Khartoum argued that such criterion fits the Dinka Ngok tribe of South Sudan and excludes the Sudanese nomads of al Messriyah who reside in Abyei few months a year to graze their cattle.
Al-Bashir and Kiir, however, agreed to continue the implementation of the agreement they signed in June 2011 on Abyei, which stipulates the establishment of joint administrative and legislative bodies to run the region. They also agreed to keep the UN-mandated force of 4200 Ethiopian peacekeepers who are deployed in Abyei as part of the same deal.
A South Sudanese official, speaking to Sudan Tribune on the condition of anonymity, confirmed on Wednesday that the two leaders failed to reach an agreement over Abyei and other disputed regions.
The official revealed that the dispute over Abyei would therefore be referred to the AU Peace and Security Council and later to the UN Security Council (UNSC).
KIIR TALKS OF PAINFUL CONCESSIONS
Meanwhile, President Kiir has expressed rejection to what he described as pressure on his country to make concessions more than the “painful” ones it already made.
“We have made painful decisions to concede over some of the demands with hope to achieve lasting peace and promote mutual cooperation and viability of the states but yet we are still feeling a pressure to make additional concession. This is not feasible. Our people are no longer accepting any suggestion”, a highly placed source speaking to Sudan Tribune quoted Kiir as saying on Wednesday.
According to the source, Kiir made the remark during a consultative discussion with mediators on the sideline of the summit in Addis Ababa.
President Kiir, whose remarks appear to be directed at Sudan’s refusal of the AUHIP proposal on Abyei, called for the immediate implementation of the proposal and on the international community to prepare for the necessary support.
“The proposal has certainly addressed key issues even if it has not resolved all the concerns”, Kiir said. The source said that the South Sudanese leader had rejected a proposal from Khartoum during the summit to either include al-Messriyah in the vote or divide the area so that the northern part of Abyei would administered by Sudan as the southern side would be administered by South Sudan.
“There is no reason to divide the area which has already been defined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. All these claims have been addressed by the court and we all accepted the ruling as final and binding decision. We just need the referendum to be conducted for Dinka Ngok and other residents” the source quoted Kiir as telling the mediators.
Abyei is one of the issues that the UNSC ordered the two countries through resolution 2045 to resolve by the extended deadline of 22 September.
Sources told Sudan Tribune that AUHIP chief Thabo Mbeki informed Sudan and South Sudan that he intends to address the UNSC and ask for another extension of the deadline to settle the outstanding issues.