Last week, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to address implementing the terms of reconciliation signed last September.
The agreements call for a demilitarized zone along the border, authorize resumption of oil production, and open the border to future trade. Following the September resolutions, South Sudan intended to resume oil production last November so that the first oil exports would hit the market in January and begin improving the dire economic situation in both countries. However, oil production remains suspended. Sudan’s government, accusing the South Sudan government of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), refuses to withdraw Sudanese troops from the border.
During the negotiations last week, some progress was made by the African Union mediation team on the establishment of an interim Abyei Area administration, Abyei Area Council and the Abyei Area Police Service. However, the Khartoum government stalled the talks by demanding a 50% membership in the interim administrative council, contrary to provisions in the Abyei Protocol. These provisions specify that 40% of the council seats would be allocated to Sudan and 60% to South Sudan.
On January 17th, South Sudan started withdrawing its army from the border with Sudan. This represents the first significant step that either country has taken towards establishing a demilitarized zone, and therein fulfilling the leading term of the September 2012 agreements. According to a statement by South Sudan officials, the withdrawal will be complete by February 4th, 2013 and they expect Sudan to do the same. Thus far, Sudan has not commented.
While the presidential summit marked a rhetorical stride towards reconciliation between the two nations, little substantive progress was actually made. The issue of humanitarian access to the crisis in South Kordofan and Blue Nile border states is still not on the agenda and little has been done to execute the oil deal signed on September 27. South Sudan’s withdrawal of troops along the border finally shows a commitment to the terms of reconciliation, but if Sudan does not reciprocate, tensions may rise and this small step of progress will be futile. The failure of any significant action on the part of the Sudanese government emphasizes the critical role of international stakeholders and advocacy groups to continue facilitating mediation so that Sudan and South Sudan avoid another war.
For more information on the oil agreement, see Conflict Risk Network’s October report, The Sudan-South Sudan Agreements: A Long Way To Go.