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Africa

"Time is needed to solve Sudans' border dispute"

South Sudan says it is disappointed by a proposal from African Union mediators that allows negotiations with Khartoum over the final status of the contested region of Abyei to be extended for another six weeks.

(L-R) Pagan Amum, south Sudan chief negotiator, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, former president of Nigeria Abdulsalam Abubakar, Chief African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, former Burundi president Pierre Buyoya and President of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir meet during talks in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa September 24, 2012. Leaders from Sudan and South Sudan will meet on Sunday for the first time in a year to try to agree on border security so that South Sudan can start exporting oil again, a lifeline for both economies. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri (ETHIOPIA - Tags: BUSINESS COMMODITIES POLITICS)

Addis Abeba Sudan Südsudan Verhandlungen

The mediators were reporting to AU Peace and Security Council on Wednesday before their recommendations are passed to the UN Security Council.

DW: Why is South Sudan unwilling to resume discussions about Abyei?

Florian Dähne: I think the South Sudanese negotiators have the point that the Abyei issue has been discussed over and over again and there doesn't seem to be any real room for negotiations between the two parties. It just simply needs a bit more time to come up with a viable solution for both sides, because their positions are quiet irresolvable. But the question is either we have a referendum as was promised during the comprehensive peace agreement, or there are real negotiations, a negotiated deal, but what that will that look like nobody knows. South Sudan is really pushing to have that referendum because it seems that the majority of the citizens that live permanently in Abyei consider themselves far more South Sudanese than Sudanese.

What sort of solution to the Abyei dispute could be acceptable to both sides?

It seams hard to have a compromise which is good for both sides. South Sudan has the point that holding a referendum on Abyei was laid down in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Under that deal, only permanent residents of Abyei should be allowed to vote in that referendum, which would include many of the nomads Miseria who spend half of the year, but not whole year, in the Abyei region. If that was to happen then it is very likely that Abyei would choose to be part of South Sudan. Khartoum doesn't want that to happen and they insist that the referendum may not lead to any acceptable results and they need to negotiate further, further and further but nobody knows where would that lead.

Has the African Union played its role satisfactorily in efforts to solve the border dispute in South Sudan and Sudan conflict?

That is a hard question, I think the African Union and the High Level Implementation team and the negotiation team and Thabo Mbeki may have achieved a lot in terms of the recent agreements that were reached between Sudan and South Sudan at the end of September's negotiations in Addis Ababa. The Abyei situation was not solved and that is, of course, is not satisfactory to anybody. But I think we should be fair and acknowledge what the negotiations have been come up with, rather than focusing on one issue which they have not resolved.

When you look at the negotiations between the two countries, is agreement on border issues imminent?

I think they are getting closer. Off course there are still a lot of contested areas between the two countries. Abyei just being the most prominent of them, but there other areas along the border where the two sides could not agree on which area belongs to which country. But my hope would be that (as laid down in the protocol which has been agreed in Addis Ababa) if they manage to get the oil flowing again and more importantly if they manage to establish kind of a soft border regime along the border, without defining necessarily whether it runs 20 kilometers more to north or to the south, then trade could be possible between north and south. If they make seasonal migration possible between north and south, then maybe the question whether the line should be drawn a bit further to the north or a bit more to the south might not be that hard for the two countries to agree upon.

Florian Dähne is Sudan Resident Representative at Friedrich Erbert Foundation in Khartoum.

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