Sudan, South leaders meet amid tensions

January 05, 2013 - 2:14:41 am

ADDIS ABABA: The rival leaders of Sudan and South Sudan arrived in the Ethiopia yesterday to push for progress on stalled economic, oil and security deals between the former civil war foes, officials said.

The summit between Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir and his Southern counterpart Salva Kiir comes despite accusations from Juba on Thursday that Khartoum had launched air and ground attacks inside South Sudan.

“Both leaders have arrived,” Ethiopian foreign affairs spokesman Dina Mufti said, adding that they were expected to meet face-to-face later.

However, Bashir and Kiir first met separately with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, according to diplomats and a reporter. It was not immediately clear when the presidents would hold talks directly.

The summit of the leaders, whose nations are both struggling with economic austerity cuts following Juba’s halting of oil exports through Sudan’s pipelines, is the latest of repeated rounds of AU-mediated talks.

AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said she hoped the summit would “enable the two presidents to agree on the best means and ways of overcoming the challenges” of implementing deals inked in September.

Juba has accused Khartoum of a series of attacks — regularly dismissed by Sudan — ever since the two nations came close to all-out war in March and April last year, when their armies fought bitter battles over their disputed frontier.

But the fresh claims of clashes will add to tensions between the presidents, who will meet for the first summit since they signed security and oil agreements three months ago that are still not implemented.

The United States, Britain and Norway issued a joint statement ahead of the talks calling for a settlement, urging for the armies of both nations to “immediately withdraw” from their frontier.

The resumption of oil production would be “particularly valuable for both economies and should not be held up by negotiation on other issues”, they added.

Along with a demilitarised border buffer zone, the September pacts allowed for a resumption of South Sudanese oil exports through Sudan. They also said border points would be reopened for general trade.

The meeting is also hoped to “find solutions to the pending issues of the Abyei area”, a flashpoint Lebanon-sized region claimed by both Khartoum and Juba, Dlamini-Zuma added in a statement.