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Juba and Khartoum toil towards fixing ties

Waakhe Simon
Juba and Khartoum are taking steps to improve frosty ties by addressing long-running border issues, including security and economic challenges, ministers said.
13.06.2016  |  Juba, South Sudan
 (photo: The Niles)
(photo: The Niles)

We have agreed to open a new page because we want to resolve all our problems with Sudan.

On June 3, the first delegation from South Sudan’s transitional government visited Khartoum in efforts to cement bilateral ties with Sudan. Among the party were South Sudan’s Minister of Defense Kuol Manyang Juuk, Foreign Affairs Minister Deng Alor and Interior Minister Alfred Lado Gore who met their counterparts and President Omar Al Bashir.

During the gathering they inked several agreements aiming to minimise insecurity along the borders, Alor told told journalists when he returned to Juba. “We have agreed to open a new page because we want to resolve all our problems with Sudan,” Alor said.

Relations between Juba and Khartoum have been itchy over the past three years, during South Sudan’s civil war, with the two countries accusing each other of supporting rebels fighting their respective governments.

Alor added that the document contained agreements on the center line, the demilitarised zone and crossing corridors, proposed by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ), a buffer zone along the Sudan-South Sudan border.

With an agreed centre line, the boundaries of the buffer zone are established, which should facilitate the work of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) agreed to by the parties in the September 2012 accords.

In the past, South Sudan had been reluctant to accept the centre line, which is straddled by disputed territory, because of its concern that the line could become the de facto boundary between Sudan and South Sudan.

The agreement also addressed economic challenges following a recent lack of cooperation between the neighbouring countries.

South Sudan’s Minister of Defense Juuk said the visit aimed at fixing the awkward ties between the countries, describing it as a “very fruitful” meeting, not least given the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the former arch enemies.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after a fierce war, one of Africa’s longest, which spanned decades and traumatised generations.

Juuk added that the agreement stipulated that Juba and Khartoum would move back their national forces from the disputed borders of the two countries in an effort to avoid confrontation.

The exact path of South Sudan and Sudan's border remains unclear, meaning that conflict could be sparked between the two countries at any time. Adding to volatility, the two nations also dispute how resources are distributed along the border, including the economic lifeline, oil.

Khartoum in recent months has shut down its borders with South Sudan, blocking bilateral trade between the two countries given the tense relations.

Had things always been like this there wouldn’t have been any problem between Sudan and South Sudan.

Juuk says there is still need for the two governments to work hard to address these challenges, adding that President Bashir also called on the two governments two work towards creating confidence and trust.

During South Sudan’s extended conflict, more than 400,000 people left South Sudan for Sudan, including many businesses, Juuk said.

“It’s a turning point,” Juuk told journalists. “Had things always been like this there wouldn’t have been any problem between Sudan and South Sudan […]. There is hope that relations between Sudan and South Sudan will improve.”

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