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EDITORIAL: Leaders reach deal in Sudan

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Leaders reach deal in Sudan

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At last some sense has emerged between the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan who have agreed to a set of proposals outlined by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and envoy of the African Union (AU) to bring about a settlement to their dispute.
Relations between these two neighbours have also been tense since the independence of the South in July 2012. Nonetheless, it is a good development that both the flanks of Sudan have responded to diplomacy.
Their endeavour to talk, despite hiccups and constant irritations on their respective frontiers is long overdue. In recent reports both leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to setting up a buffer zone on their shared border and resuming oil exports to Port Sudan.
These steps advance the cause of reconciliation, an objective that the world community and, especially the regional AU,  wants to realise. President Mbeki said both sides had agreed “unconditionally” to implement the deal struck last September.
President Omar Al Bashir and his Southern counterpart Salva Kiir now have an opportunity to rise above petty political grandstanding, and speed up the implementation of the September agreement.
The destabilising impact of civil war on the rest of the region is very evident. Though there is some pessimism in this latest deal, if it could be respected and implemented, oil could start to flow from South Sudan and bring it some much needed economic relief.
Both sides depend heavily on the oil revenues which account for 98 per cent of South Sudan’s revenues budget. The majority of the oil lies to the south but all the pipelines run through the North to Port Sudan.
It is important that the leaders do not defer this agreement to another date, and bring the velvet divorce discord to an end. A good beginning could be made only if both sides immediately withdrew their forces and demilitarise their porous borders.
Khartoum and Juba are not too unnatural entities, and their shared history and geography make it compelling to strike a balance in their relations. The main issue for both the countries is that they have to convince their respective countrymen that independence is working.
The signature deal could survive if both the presidents agree to meet next time around in their own respective capitals, rather than Ethiopia, in order to engender confidence among the Sudanese people.
The South is particularly affected by the dispute as it desperately needs to get its oil over a land route to the north to Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. The flashpoint region of Abeyi is also another problem.
It lies on the border and is claimed by both sides but needs to be demilitarized. The problem is compounded because South Sudan is Christian while the north is Muslim and both sides accuse each other of supporting rebel groups in their territory.
All precautions must be taken to avoid civil strife. The Sudanese have already had enough of bloodshed and destruction and it is time to complete the unfinished business of the partition.