Sudan and South Sudan were set for key peace talks on Monday to settle bitter disputes on oil, border demarcation and other issues. A UN Security Council deadline for an agreement expired on Saturday.
Former civil war foes Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir, were on Monday heading for a second day of peace talks hosted by Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne at the presidential palace in Addis Ababa. AU chief mediator and former South African president Thabo Mbeki is also present.
The pair kick-started talks with a two-hour meeting late Sunday, following marathon negotiation efforts by rival delegations. The initial talks were intended to bring the two sides closer together on a range of issues left unresolved when the South became independent last year.
Little information has filtered out about progress at the meeting, but both leaders were seen smiling and chatting as the talks broke up for the night on Sunday.
The two presidents were expected to discuss a solution for the disputed border region of Abyei and the establishment of a demilitarized zone.
Hoping and waiting
Western and African diplomats are optimistic that a deal, which could end hostilities and restart oil exports in the two countries, will finally be reached during the talks.
"There is still optimism some form of a deal can be settled," said a Western diplomat.
However, according to officials, there was still no breakthrough on a key security issue after two weeks of talks in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. On Saturday, Sudan raised hopes of a deal by conditionally accepting an AU map for a demilitarized border zone, which it had previously rejected.
Badr el-Din Abdallah, spokesman for the Sudanese delegation, said earlier there were still differences. "We have agreed on many topics but there are still issues for which we don't have a deal yet, specifically the security issue," he said.
Khartoum has long accused Juba of supplying weapons to Sudan's People's Liberation Movement -North (SPLM-N) rebels, in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, an allegation the South denies.
South Sudan said it expected Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir, to reach a deal on Monday, after a U.N. Security Council deadline was unofficially extended.
South Sudan's cabinet affairs minister Deng Alor told DW he was hopeful an agreement could soon be reached. "There are still some few issues with regard to oil and border. I think they could be resolved," he said.
Call for a new era
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the leaders to tackle their remaining differences "so that their summit concludes with a success that marks an end to the era of conflict." .
The prottracted African Union-mediated talks in the Ethiopian capital began several months before South Sudan split in July 2011 from what was Africa's biggest nation, following an independence vote after decades of war.
The armies of both nations fought for weeks in April along the unmarked and disputed border after a row over oil pipeline fees escalated. The border clashes broke out in March, when Southern troops and tanks briefly wrested the valuable Heglig oil field from Khartoum's control, which then launched bombing raids in response.
The two reached an interim deal in August to restart oil exports from landlocked South Sudan through Sudan to its Red Sea port. Juba had turned off its oil wells in the wake of the pipeline fee dispute.