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With talks, another chance at peace for Sudan and South Sudan

Starting today, Sudan and South Sudan meet in Addis Ababa for another round of African Union-led talks. The talks come just one day after South Sudan accused Sudan of attacks inside its territory and two days after Sudan filed a complaint against its new neighbor at the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Commenting on the alleged attack on Northern Bahr Al-Ghazal state from the airport before boarding the plane to Ethiopia, South Sudan’s lead negotiator, Pagan Amum, told Associated Press that “these are not signs of peace.”

Earlier this week, Sudan filed a UNSC complaint accusing Southern forces of entering its borders.

The talks, which are supervised by the UN Security Council, will assess the commitment of the two partners to the UNSC resolution 2046 and the roadmap presented by Thabo Mbeki, the lead mediator and chief of the AU’s High Implementation Panel. 

The UN’s Resolution 2046 calls on the two countries to end hostilities and to urgently reach a deal through negotiations or else to face sanctions imposed by the UNSC and its member states. The roadmap devised by former South African President Mbeki focuses on security and border issues between the two countries.

Unfinished business

This week’s talks will not bring immediate peace, says Hafiz Ismail, a Khartoum-based political analyst, but they do provide an opportunity for both sides to address issues that have been unresolved since the end of the Sudanese civil war in 2005. “This procedural round is to discuss the issues of cessation of hostilities, establishing a buffer-zone and monitoring arrangements,” Mr. Ismail says.

Oil transit fees, citizenship and border demarcation — including the disputed border city of Abyei — will be left to the second round where the two countries should present proposals to address other unresolved issues.

Recent fighting between Sudan and South Sudan — which won its independence in July 2011 after a January referendum vote for secession — has brought the two countries to the very brink of all out war, as Southern Sudanese troops captured the northern oilfields at Heglig, and as Sudanese jet planes have bombed civilian villages and Southern military positions alike. Neither country can afford a war, politically or financially. South Sudan has turned off the one possible source of government revenues, by shutting off its oil production because of disputes with the north over the north’s fees for pumping that oil out to global markets through its pipelines.

The Sudanese regime in Khartoum, meanwhile, has a massive military and government apparatus, but has lost more than 75 percent of the oil revenues it once enjoyed when South Sudan was still part of its country. For both countries, foreign cash reserves are getting low, and government employees are going unpaid. And for the region, any possibility of all out war between the two Sudans has the potential to become a regional conflict, as friends of Sudan and South Sudan show signs of sending in their own troops to join the conflict.

Start with security

Sudan has prioritized discussing security arrangements.

Just yesterday, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) reiterated that it will start the talks with the security file.

“If the south does not support rebel movements and its army is not inside Sudan, why wouldn’t they start with the security file?” asked the NCP’s spokesperson to the press.

Along the same lines, Al-Obeid Meruh who is the spokesperson of Sudan’s Foreign Ministry told the Monitor, “Only if they are serious in discussing security arrangements, then we can go for other issues.”

“There should be no military hostilities between the two sides and a 10 kilometers zone into Sudan’s borders should be respected,” Mr. Meruh says.

The Sudans are fast running out of time, after countless rounds of talks in Addis Ababa since last year. This time around, there is a strict 3-month deadline put forward by the UNSC.

Sudan has expressed reservations on the resolution from the onset, most recently rejecting the security and administrative map of Resolution 2046, since it includes a disputed area between the two countries.

“They [Khartoum] have entered the talks half-heartedly, this was evident from their position on the resolution, their reluctance to accept it,” says Farouk Abu-Eissa of the Khartoum-based National Consensus Forces (NCF), the largest coalition of opposition movements in Sudan. 

The NCF requested Thabo Mbeki get involved in the talks, Mr. Abu-Eissa says, and South Sudan welcomed this initiative, but the Sudanese government told the Sudanese opposition that they must stay out of the process, and allow Khartoum to do the talking. If the opposition has anything to contribute to the talks, they can pass it along through Khartoum.

“As a third party that rejects war between Sudans and within Sudan, we wanted to push for peace,” says Abu-Eissa.

Deadline pending

With so many issues to resolve — from border demarcation, oil revenues, and security cooperation — it remains unclear whether the two partners will resolve them all before the deadline. 

The Naivasha peace agreement of 2005 stipulated that both parties must resolve these issues before the July 2011 secession.  

Commenting on the time-frame, Mr. Ismail who heads a peace and development organization in Sudan, says that the timeframe is a challenge as the gap between the parties is too big.

“The mediation team might need to put its own agreement and force it on the two parties through UNSC backing,” says Ismail.

On the other hand, Mr. Meruh says that the two partners have discussed a mechanism to monitor the unresolved issues specially the security arrangements in previous meetings.

“We need for the mechanism to be implemented, this is better for both of us, it ensures that we will not carry out a military hostility against South Sudan and vice versa,” says Meruh, optimistically.

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