Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 October 2012
Issue No. 1117
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Partial deal in Sudan

A step towards peace or the calm before the storm, asks Asmaa Al-Husseini

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South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan Al-Bashir display a signed deal to delegates in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa (photo: Reuters)

A partial agreement reached by Khartoum and Juba was met with qualified relief north and south of the troubled borders. The agreement, signed by presidents Omar Al-Bashir and Salva Kiir in Addis Ababa a few days ago, addressed the thorny issues of producing and transporting oil and created a demilitarised zone on the borders, but failed to resolve other standing issues, such as the fate of the oil-rich region of Abyei.

Still, the mere fact that the two countries are talking instead of sending their armies into battle is a substantial improvement, diplomats say.

Since South Sudan seceded just over a year ago, relations between the north and south have been fraught with mistrust. Oil is at the heart of the mistrust, for the south has walked away with almost 70 per cent of the country's reserves. Before the secession, Sudan produced nearly 500,000 barrel/day, and oil revenues kept the nation alive.

After the secession, differences over transportation fees and the ownership of oil became so intense that South Sudan shut off completely its oil fields at the beginning of the year. As tensions rose between the two sides, the two countries fought a brief war in the border town of Heglig in April 2012, a war that many expected to turn into a much wider conflict.

The international community intervened, with the UN threatening sanctions on either country if it doesn't negotiate a peace deal in goodwill. The current partial deal would have been unimaginable without considerable international pressure on both sides.

North and South Sudanese officials signed three different batches of agreements in Addis Ababa, covering a wide range of security, legal and economic matters.

According to Idris Abdel-Qader, a north Sudanese negotiator, the agreements pave the way for ending the conflict in a peaceful manner. Officials of the two countries have promised to resolve pending issues within the next 40 days.

Sudanese Defence Minister Abdel-Rahim Hussein, said that the agreements offered an answer to various questions related to oil, economy, trade, borders, banking and travel. In particular, he noted that the negotiators agreed on arrangements to disengage troops in South Kordofan. He added that measures to monitor and supervise military movements on the borders have also been discussed. Both sides are said to have pledged to stop assisting rebel movements across the borders.

Will the agreement hold? The answer to this question is yet unclear. Both countries suffer from a host of domestic problems, and blaming one another has proved to be a convenient way of shifting the blame from their own failures. Extremists on both sides of the borders are also likely to continue raising objections about any peace deal. In the north, for example, some have already argued that the deal will give the south a breathing space, which it will use to build a pipeline to Kenya, thus averting the need to use the north Sudanese facilities in Port Sudan.

Unless a new mindset is created in both countries, the climate of tension and suffering will take its toll north and south of the borders. In general, the future of peace between Khartoum and Juba depends not only on their negotiating skills, but on how serious they are about addressing their own problems at home.

A lesson both leaders should learn from the tribulations of the past few months is that war, however tempting, will only make their situation worse.

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