Sudan and South Sudan sign a deal to resume oil exports
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Oil exports are set to resume from Sudan and South Sudan after their leaders signed trade and security agreements Thursday aimed at ceasing hostilities and setting up a demilitarized buffer zone on their shared border.
The deal averts the threat of sliding back into a war that has lingered since clashes resumed in April between the uneasy neighbors.
But in a sign of the underlying hostility, there was no territorial deal resolving one of their most enduring sources of conflict: the disputed border and the region of Abyei, which both sides claim.
The two countries faced U.N. Security Council sanctions if they failed to reach a peace deal.
Talks between President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, which were mediated by the African Union, had dragged on since Sunday before they finally signed the accords in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
The two sides signed a peace deal in 2005 that ended more than two decades of war and led to South Sudanese independence in July 2011. But many contentious questions, including the border and oil transit issues, were left unresolved.
South Sudan shut down oil production in January, after Sudan seized South Sudanese oil in a dispute over oil transit fees. The suspension of exports cost both countries millions and hit both economies hard.
Details of the oil transit deal Thursday were not announced.
Kiir described the deal as a "great day in the history of the region," while Bashir called it a "historic moment for building peace," news agencies reported. African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, said it was "a giant step forward."
South Sudan's chief negotiator, Pagan Amum, said it would be several months before oil production resumes.
"We have already started the preparations. ... I believe by the end of the year the oil will flow," he told Reuters news agency.
The tension between the two countries spiked as soon as South Sudan seceded. Landlocked South Sudan has to export its oil through Sudan and complained that Sudan demanded transit fees that were well above the international benchmark.
In a move many analysts saw as economic suicide, the South shut down production, which accounts for 98% of its budget. South Sudan said it found that Sudan had understated the real volume of oil production in the six years since the peace deal; the oil was to be shared evenly between the countries.
Both sides frequently accuse the other of arming and supporting rebels inside each other's territory, and the border dispute remains a potential point of conflict. Analysts warn of the potential for renewed war unless the two sides agree upon a boundary.
"The two nations will continue to face an uncertain future," said Jose Barahona, a senior official for aid group Oxfam in South Sudan, "until there is agreement on Abyei and the other contested areas, and efforts are stepped up to resolve the conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile," a reference to two border areas that have seen fighting since South Sudanese independence.
Photo: Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, left, and South Sudan President Salva Kiir shake hands Thursday at a signing ceremony after the two countries reached a deal on economic and security agreements in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Credit: Elias Asmare / Associated Press