Abyei unresolved; Rebel movement not consulted

The Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan signed agreements to implement a demilitarised zone that paves the way for resumption of oil exports after a five-day summit in the Ethiopian capital.

“Today is a great day in the history of our region … as you witness the signing of the cooperation agreement that brings to an end the long conflict between our two countries,” said South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit.

“This agreement stands as a living model for the ability of the Sudanese and African people to resolve their issues and problems through dialogue and negotiations,” said Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir. Oil sales account for 98 per cent of South Sudan’s revenue and 90 per cent of Sudan’s exports. The resumption of oil trade is imperative for both as they rebuild their cash-starved economies after the 2011 secession of the South granted it control of most of the oil reserves but gave Sudan control of the pipelines.

The centrepiece of Thursday’s agreements is a 20-km wide demilitarized zone, to be monitored and patrolled by international forces, which will serve as a buffer as the neighbours demarcate an acceptable international border. Last year, tensions along the 1,800-km border sparked an armed conflict.

The Presidents also signed agreements to address post-secession issues, including institutional frameworks for cross-border cooperation, central banking and the status of citizens in one country working and residing in the other.

Unresolved issues

The two countries were unable to resolve the status of Abyei, a disputed territory. The region serves as the traditional grazing grounds for the Misseriya tribes allied to the North, but is home to a settled population of the Ngok Dinka people who consider themselves South Sudanese.

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, the status of Abyei must be decided through a referendum, but the two sides are unable to agree on criteria to determine voter eligibility.

“My government and I accepted unconditionally the proposal of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel [AUHIP] to the resolution of the conflict in Abyei,” said Mr. Kiir, adding “unfortunately my brother [Mr.] Bashir and Sudan totally rejected it.”

Sudan has rejected the AUHIP proposal on the grounds that it does not allow for voting rights of the Misseriya people.

The agreement insists on “permanent abode within the Abyei area” as a precondition for voting, according to letter written by the Sudanese negotiating team and published by the Sudan Tribune newspaper.

Western diplomats welcomed the cessation of hostilities, but some felt the resumption of oil trade could mean that pressing humanitarian issues could be swept under the carpet.

U.N. Security Council resolutions mandate that Sudan negotiate with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North [SPLM-N] — a rebel force that controls large parts of Sudan’s border with South Sudan — to allow humanitarian aid to thousands of civilians displaced by the war. However, the two sides did not even meet at the summit.

“The oil has been there even before this war started,” said Yasir Arman, SPLM-N General Secretary, in interview on the summit sidelines,

“[President] Bashir is denying access for 15 months for hundreds of thousands of civilian populations. This issue is not going to go away because he opens the oilfields.”

Mr. Arman said Khartoum’s inability to engage with the SPLM-N could complicate the enforcement of the demilitarized zone — the rebels control a significant amount of land along the border between the two nations.

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