Sudan and South Sudan have been at odds over various issues, particularly oil revenue sharing, border demarcation, and security, since South Sudan became independent last year. Negotiations – sometimes fruitless, sometimes more promising – have taken place in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. A round of talks in early August saw a breakthrough of sorts: a tentative agreement on oil revenue sharing, subject to further agreements on security.
This week the Sudans are back at the negotiating table:
Western diplomats and African Union mediators now hope to build on progress after the two struck an interim deal on oil fees last month. Sudan says it wants a border security deal before oil flows resume.
Officials from both sides have been much brighter in their predictions than in previous rounds.
“Sudan’s delegation is ready to reach an agreement by the end of this round,” El-Obeid Morawah, spokesman for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, said. “I think they (South Sudan) are also open-minded and open-hearted.”
Michael Makuei Lueth, chairman of the border committee for South Sudan, said he was optimistic about resolving issues such as cross-border trade, the status of citizens in one another’s countries, and the disputed Abyei border region.
“If the government of Sudan is coming to negotiate in good faith, then we are likely to agree on everything except the borders that will follow at a later stage,” he said.
The United Nations, which previously set a deadline of August 2 for the resolution of the two sides’ disagreements, now says they must finalize a deal by September 22. Based on the experience of August it seems the deadlines are meant to generate a sense of urgency, but that some flexibility remains.
What has changed in the interval between the talks in early August and the current talks is that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a powerful influence in the region, has passed away. Some eulogies for Meles emphasized his role as a peacemaker between the Sudans, and some observers have wondered whether his absence might decrease the chances of peace:
It is Sudan and South Sudan where Meles’ personal engagement might be irreplaceable. Meles is the only regional leader to maintain strong relations with both Sudanese President Omar Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Meles often personally mediated meetings between the two foes.
The Sudans’ optimistic rhetoric suggests that the talks in early August established some momentum toward peace. The loss of Meles complicates an already fragile situation, but perhaps not critically so. And it will, of course, take some time to assess the impact of his death on the region, and to understand how Ethiopia’s new leaders will approach the conflict between the Sudans.
[UPDATE]: Sudan Tribune reports on talks in Addis Ababa between Sudanese presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie and Acting Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegen.