Sudan and South Sudan have until August 2 to resolve their differences over oil, border disputes and the status of the contested Abyei region. The talks have been marked by disagreement as border clashes continue.
Most experts believe that the two countries will reach a peace accord on or before August 2. It is not the first time that the United Nations and the African Union have set a deadline for the neighboring states to resolve their differences. But after months of deadlock and missed deadlines, Douglas Johnson, like many other experts, remains cautious.
"While deadline diplomacy produces agreement on paper, the modalities and the implementation tend to be worked out later. In other words, it is not really an agreement," Johnson, the author of a number of books on Sudan and South Sudan told DW. He is skeptical that any sustainable agreement could be reached before this Thursday.
Edging closer to agreement on oil
Negotiations between the two countries started long before South Sudan gained independence almost exactly one year ago. The current round of negotiations has been dragging on since independence. So far there has been no breakthrough on any of the major issues including the distribution of oil revenues, simmering border conflicts or the status of the contested region of Abyei.
Last week, however, Juba made concessions. It offered transit fees of almost 7.50 euros a barrel up from its original offer of 55 Euro cents for every barrel of crude oil transported via Sudanese pipelines to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Khartoum, which operates the pipelines and harbor, is asking for a transit fee of 28 Euros. Landlocked South Sudan also offered to compensate the North with almost 25 million Euros for lost revenues, after Juby suspended oil production earlier this year.
The status of Abyei is among unresolved disputes
Unresolved security issues
The South Sudanese government is pushing for a quick resolution. It desperately needs the oil revenues which make up almost 90 percent of its budget. The government also proposed a referendum and international mediation on the state of Abyei, a contested region that both North and South Sudan lay claim to.
But the response from the North has been guarded. “We cannot accept to cooperate on oil revenues, when rebels are armed and security issues are not resolved”, Khalid Musa Dafalla, Sudan's Deputy Ambassador to Germany, told DW. Sudan accuses the South of supporting rebels in the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states which border South Sudan.
In 2005, the two states were ceded to Sudan. But their inhabitants feel they belong to the South, both culturally and historically. The rebels fighting in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan once belonged to the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The government in Juba is mainly made up of former SPLA fighters. “The government in South Sudan feels it has a moral obligation to support the rebels,” Douglas Johnson says. It is unlikely that the government will withdraw its support. This may jeopardize any possible agreement with Sudan.
Peaceful coexistence at a lower level
But even as diplomacy continues at a stormy high, local residents have been coexisting peacefully for centuries. Until independence, today's borders were only administrative boundaries. “There are some North Sudanese risking their lives. They are going into the North to bring goods into the South. People are trying to continue with their normal lives,” says Luka Biong Deng Kuol. The former South Sudanese government minister heads an aid agency which operates in the border region.
But international politics increasingly nevertheless impact on local residents' lives. Two weeks ago, the Sudanese military staged an air raid across the border, bombing the South Sudanese state Bahr el Ghazal, according to media reports. Douglas Johnson is convinced that similar incidents will continue even after the August 2 deadline. “I don't think that either side wants to start a war,” he says. "But a lasting peace in the region is still very far off, without or without the peace accord".