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EDITORIAL: Sudan and South reach oil deal

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Sudan and South reach oil deal

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Last Saturday some good news came from the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) at its 329th meeting, held in Ethiopia to resolve the dispute with Sudan and South Sudan.
The agreement coincided with the visit of United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Africa after she had called on both leaders to reach a settlement for the good of the Sudanese people and for Africa itself.
We doubt whether Clinton’s call made the difference but there must have been a collective sigh of relief as both states were facing bankruptcy following the shutdown of export of South Sudan’s oil through Port Sudan.
The neighbours, which share a deep mistrust and have often not implemented previous arrangements, still have to resolve the thorny issue of the demarcation of their disputed border.
Landlocked South Sudan threw both economies into turmoil in January when it shut down its oil output of 350 000 barrels a day after failing to agree on a transit fee with Sudan, which started seizing oil to compensate for what it called unpaid fees.
AU-mediated talks, led by former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, have long been hampered by differences on where to draw up a demilitarised buffer zone – seen as a crucial first step to ending hostilities.
South Sudan’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum reiterated calls for an arbitration body to resolve a dispute over the position of their shared border. He also accused Sudan of maintaining a police force in the disputed Abyei border region, despite United Nations (UN) requests for a complete pull-out by both sides.
Despite the difficulties, Mbeki reaffirmed that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir were scheduled to discuss Abyei next month after a break for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Despite the inability of both sides to finalize agreements by the August 2 deadline stipulated by the UN Security Council resolution 2046, it is still a good sign that diplomacy has worked for Sudan.
The deal that has been clinched between both the flanks of Sudan on oil production and exports, and other relevant bilateral issues in Ethiopia is a welcome development and hopefully ushers in a new era of rapprochement.
The discord had threatened to plunge this region into a renewed civil war after two decades of unrest had claimed more than a million lives. It is heartening that differences could be reconciled after their velvet divorce last year.
This is what has been missing in other flashpoints of the world, and in Africa alike where border, resources and demography act as irritants. There is still much work to be done on the deal reached in Ethiopia.
Each country needs to revisit the historic accord signed under the aegis of the United Nations and stick to it while they hammer out a lasting accord.