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Africa

Partial deal in Sudan peace talks

For days the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan were locked in intense talks in Ethiopia. Now they have a partial economic deal but remain at odds on border issues.

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir spent several days at the negotiating table. On the agenda were at least nine issues which the heads of state could not agree on, including the important question of oil production. Both presidents were under great pressure from the international community and faced the threat of sanctions from the UN.

The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan Omar el Bashir and Salva Kiir Photo by Tim Mckulka/UNMIS

Before South Sudan's independence, Kiir (L) once served as Bashir's (R) deputy

Last weekend, the UN ultimatum to resolve Sudan's conflict passed without any meaningful results being achieved. The failure to reach a compromise led the two presidents to cancel their attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York.  Instead they carried on talking, trying to reach a deal that could see the resumption of much-needed oil production.

There were some agreements reached over disputed areas, including the setting up of a demilitarized zone, officials from both countries said on Wednesday evening. The deal was to be signed on Thursday in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

However, there was no agreement on the oil-rich border region of Abyei and other disputed regions along the 1,800 kilometer-long (1,118 miles) common border. Another contentious issue is the citizenship status of southerners in the north and vice versa. South Sudan declared itself independent in July 2011 after decades of civil war.

Still a long way to go

A partial deal means that both parties and the international community must be prepared for many more rounds of negotiations and possibly lengthy international arbitration, Sudan expert Karl Wohlmuth from the University of Bremen told DW in an interview.

Three little children are holed up inside a cave in the Nuba mountains. Photo by Bettina Rühl.

Civil war continues in the Nuba mountains border region

"There are demarcation problems and there are disputed areas, there is a great number of problems.  Even if there is a positive agreement, it may take years for arbitration and for a settlement,.” Wohlmuth said.  

The partial agreement is likely to be only a first step on a long journey, agrees Wolf-Christian Paes from the Bonn International Center for Conversion( BICC).  "Are we really seeing both sides giving ground (which would, of course, be desirable)?  Or are we seeing, as has often been the case, that they appear to agree just to avoid UN sanctions, and  then, six weeks later, everything returns to square one because the underlying structural problems have not been addressed?" he asked.

China's role

Apart from African Union (AU) chief mediator Thabo Mbeki and the United States, it seems clear that China has also had considerable influence on the talks.

In the past week, Beijing's envoy to Africa, Zhong Jianhua, said he expected South Sudanese oil to start flowing in November. He gave the impression of being well informed and has visited South Sudan three times. Such interest is a sign of China's dependence on Sudanese oil, and the difficult position Beijing now finds itself in between Sudan (its former partner) and  South Sudan.

However, resumption of oil production by November is generally regarded as a very optimistic scenario.

Production plants are partially destroyed, pipes have been flooded with water and repair work will take ages. The Juba government will certainly be glad when the pumps come back to life.

Onlookers stare at burning debris lying in the middle of a street.

Violent protests against Sudan's austerity measures killed at least 8 people

South Sudan's budget,which is 98 percent dependent on oil exports, was on the brink of bankruptcy. At the same time, the dissatisfaction of southerners has rapidly grown against a background of skyrocketing food prices and double-digit inflation.

Northern Sudanese citizens have also taken to the streets to protest against rising living costs in major cities across the country.

In the view of Karl Wohlmuth, "Only if there is a comprehensive development program for the five border states in the north and five in the south, can there be lasting peace. All  other attempts will fail if we don't look at the whole border area."

The rebel factor

Parallel talks between representatives of the Sudanese government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLA/M-North), allegedly supported by South Sudan, are also taking place, under the chairmanship of Ethiopia's new prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

In addition to the demarcation conflict, the rebel insurgency is the crucial factor, says Wolf-Christian Paes of BICC. "The question is whether it will be possible to come up with a package in which Juba no longer provides military support to the rebels." 

Rebel attacks have also contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation. Concern has also been expressed by Germany's ambassador to the UN and acting President of the Security Council, Peter Wittig. "We urge both sides to take all necessary steps so that immediate help can be provided,"  he said. The population must be provided with food without delay "so that more people do not die."

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