On Friday last week the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) Committee met in Addis Ababa to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Aggression and Cooperation under which Sudan and South Sudan agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, accept the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of each other and reject the use of force. They also committed themselves to the principles of equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence and recalled their previously agreed commitment to the principle of promoting the mutual viability of the two states and the maintenance of a secure Sudan and a secure South Sudan. The two parties also agreed not to support political parties, political actors or opposition armed groups and movements within the other state. Each promised to refrain from carrying out military acts and espionage activities against the other. In rejecting force, both parties agreed to resolve their differences through peaceful means and refrain from any bombardment of each other’s territory or conduct over-flights into the airspace of the other. Neither would they allow their territory to be used by any other state, armed group or movement to conduct any act of aggression or to undertake any military activity against the territory of the other. They further agreed to conduct their relations and to cooperate on the bases of equality and the promotion of mutual benefit as well as maintain diplomatic relations to ensure peace, stability and security and joint mechanisms to foster cooperation in various areas.
UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, welcomed the agreement and urged both countries to maintain the positive spirit the agreement demonstrated and to abide by its provisions. However within a couple of days, South Sudan was accusing Sudan of bombing a border town; Sudan claimed the operation involved an attack on rebels inside Sudan not in South Sudan.
In his statement, the UN Secretary-General also expressed concern over the lack of progress to resolve post-independence issues including oil. While the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) has agreed on several areas such as the return of IDPs and movement of nomads as well as support for UNISFA to continue its engagement with the various communities and follow up the implementation of the AJOC decisions on the ground, many other issues remain to be discussed between the two sides. These include the matter of the displaced population in Abyei and the continued escalation of tension. The two parties also need further negotiations on other security related issues including the question of a “soft border”, nationality and legal matters.
Most immediately at issue is the still unresolved matter of oil over which tension continues to rise after South Sudan’s shutdown of production last month, and Sudan’s continued insistence on high transit fees. No progress was made in this despite the MOU on Non Aggression and Cooperation, and South Sudan accused Sudan of seizing an additional 2.4 million barrels of oil shipments at the beginning of the week. Last month, it accused Sudan of stealing $815 million worth of oil. Sudan said it had confiscated some oil to recover unpaid transit fees. The two sides remain far apart in their offers and over whether South Sudan should pay transport, processing and terminal fees which South Sudan says are already paid to contractors. The effects of the impasse will certainly have major ramifications on the economies of both states especially South Sudan where oil revenues account for over ninety five percent of the budget.
Other economic aspects including currency, banking relations and regulations, trade and the division of assets and liabilities including water still have to be addressed in the economic negotiations between the two parties. Another major concern where time is running out is the April 8th deadline for the half a million South Sudanese in Sudan to choose to return to South Sudan or decide to stay in Sudan where they will have to regularize their status. One hundred and twenty thousand South Sudanese have registered with the UNHCR to leave Sudan but the International Organization for Migration fears the logistics of moving these numbers in the time available, let alone half a million, is impossible.
President Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Princeton Lyman joined the talks on Monday. China has also been trying to help bridge the differences. On Wednesday, the AU Peace and Security Council appealed to both sides to remain committed to the negotiations on oil with a view to reaching a “fair agreement”. The Council stressed the AU’s “deep concern at the unilateral actions taken by both states in regard to the issue of oil and petroleum matters”, and it appealed to the international community and the UN Security Council for support to facilitate resolution of the outstanding matters of post-secession issues between the two states. Indeed, the role of IGAD, AUHIP and the International Community must be to exert maximum efforts to try to moderate the tensions between the two sides and alleviate the outstanding post-independent issues.
The talks ended on Wednesday this week with no progress on oil, but both sides have agreed to further discussions next week. It will be imperative that they then actually talk to each other rather than merely continue to talk at one another as they did this week. (MoFA)
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