By Luka Biong Deng
Originally published by the New Nation Newspaper, 29th July, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The talks between Sudan and South Sudan over the pending issues of oil, border, status of nationals and the final status of Abyei are now at critical stage as the clock of the time-bound of United Nation Security Council and African Union to conclude these talks by 2nd August is ticking. The parties lost most of their time over demilitarized zone and the map provided by the African Union Panel for this zone and as the basis for security arrangements for the cessation of hostilities. In fact Sudan was so unreasonable for not accepting the proposed map for the demilitarized zone but failed as well to provide alternative map as its suggestion of adopting the existed boundaries during interim period of CPA was baseless. Almost the talks came to standstill because of arrogance of the regime in Khartoum and its rejection to the proposed map by the Panel. When I was in Addis one diplomat confided to me how the international observers were furious and frustrated by the conduct of the negotiating team of the Sudan.
The non-compliance of Khartoum with the Roadmap became ever clearer during the recent meeting of the African Union Peace and Security in Addis when President Bashir, in his statement to the Council, not only rejected the Map but accused the African Union of imposing a flawed map that created new disputes. On the other hand the statement of President Salva to the Council was reconciliatory, responsible and forward looking and reassured the Council of his acceptance of the Roadmap and compliance with the UN Resolution 2046. Also the comprehensive Strategic Approach proposed by the Panel to address the pending issues was endorsed by the South while Khartoum came instead with a matrix for discussing the pending issues with a clear aim of diluting the Roadmap and its time-bound of three months.
It was clear that the Parties were heading to a dead end in negotiations and the Panel was losing patience in reaching win-win and voluntary solutions to the pending issues. President Salva and with backing from the SPLM Political Bureau decided to meet President Bashir during the AU Summit without the presence of the Panel and international observers. He was not only bold and strategic in his move to meet with Bashir but he shocked Bashir and international community as he put on the table specific suggestions on how to move forward with the negotiations. This timely and forward-looking leadership provided by President Salva to normalize relations between the two countries brought new impetus and hope for the talks in Ethiopia. One diplomat told me that the move of President Salva has not only surprised the international community but has revealed the hidden qualities of his style of leadership.
This move was welcomed by all including President Bashir who indicated that he would take two steps for every step taken by President Salva towards normalization of the relations between the two countries. However, the Sudanese negotiation team totally misinterpreted the good intention of President Salva. They came to the conclusion that this move clearly showed the South is so desperate and its economy will collapse probably next August when its remaining foreign reserves will allegedly be exhausted. One is not surprise that the current head of negotiation team of Sudan is not any other person but the very person who believes in military and security approach to normalization of relations between the two countries. He is also believed to be the person who provoked the tension along the border and dragged the South into unplanned war over Panthou so as to fail the planned summit in Juba between Bashir and Salva. With humiliating defeat of the Sudan Armed Forces in Panhou, there has been strong demand within the NCP and Parliament for his dismissal as Minister of Defence. Again, the Government of Sudan is represented by weak and politically vulnerable head of the negotiation team and above all he is indicted by the International Criminal Court over the gross human rights violations, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
Besides this strategic move of President Salva, the negotiating team of the South came up with a forward and comprehensive approach titled “The Agreement on Friendly Relations and Cooperation”. This framework is a turning point in the negotiation and put the talks on the path of reaching final and amicable solutions. I felt at a certain point that the South might have given much more in this proposal and beyond the expectations. However, I reflected on the wisdom I came across from the writings of Prof Eric Reeves that “You may either win your peace or buy it: win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil”. Although the regime in Khartoum may not be described as evil but the way it has been treating its own people and its neighbours, particularly the South may qualify it to be at a certain level of evil. We hope with such generous move by the South that the regime in Khartoum will have incentive to alleviate itself from the status of evil to status of righteous and virtuous. But the real question is whether the regime in Khartoum is ready to accept the offer of friendship and cooperation by the South?
On oil and other payments, the South offered about $3 billion towards meeting almost one-third of the financial gap faced by Sudan after secession. Equally, the South is ready to forgive all arrears and claims against Khartoum that is about $5 billion. Besides these offers, the South will contribute with about $5 billion towards debt forgiveness as well as working jointly for the debt relief, development assistance and lifting of economic sanctions. Also the South offers to increase transportation and process fees by 7% while maintaining transit fees at international level. What an offer! There is no any return to the South except friendship, cooperation and peace. In response to the offer of the South on oil, the regime in Khartoum out-rightly rejected the offer and suggested instead transportation tariff of $21.8 per barrel compared with the offer of the South of average of $6.5 per barrel. Also Sudan suggested a transit fee of $6 and processing fee of $4.4 per barrel compared respectively with international fees of $0.65 and $1 offered by the South. Sudan is unreasonably offering total fee of $32.2 per barrel which is about four times higher than the international practices and almost 40% of the average oil price per barrel.
On Abyei, the South maintains its position of the conduct of the referendum by a commission consisting of equal members from each state and with a neutral chair to be appointed by the African Union and with eligibility exclusively for the Ngok Dinka and other residents in the area except nomads. The Sudan, however, is reluctant to the conduct of the referendum as it might lead to loosing Abyei to the South and decided to explore instead with the Panel other options of maintaining the entire area of Abyei in the Sudan or partitioning it between the two states. Khartoum also does not entertain any attempt for the referendum to be conducted by African Union or a referendum commission to be headed by a neutral person.
On the borders and security along the border, the South accepted the map provided by the Panel as the basis for demilitarizing the buffer zone and cessation of hostilities. The South proposes to resort to regional or international arbitration as the basis for resolving amicably the remaining outstanding contested border areas. The South and particularly President Salva is keen as well to assist Bashir if Khartoum could initiate talks with SPLM-N and to accept the framework agreement on partnership between NCP and SPLM-N. The Sudan, however, has not only rejected the map provided by the Panel but insisted on the endorsement and use of 1/1/1956 map that was used during the interim period of CPA. It also demands the South to withdraw its forces from areas that it currently occupies allegedly north of 1/1/1956 border line. The Sudan negotiating team in Addis also rejected not only talks with SPLM-N and the framework agreement on partnership but also insisted on delivering humanitarian assistance to the two states through their organizations.
Given the huge gap between the negotiating positions of the Parties, the last opportunity rests now with the two Presidents of the two states. It seems that they both have a political chemistry of understanding each other, especially after the courageous move of President Salva to break the ice. The scheduled summit between the two Presidents in Addis on 31st July is expected to yield concrete results of concluding comprehensive agreement on the outstanding issues. One would expect that the Panel to put forward options from which the two Presidents could take bold and final decisions. On oil and other payments, one would expect the Panel to adopt the proposals put forward by the South and with window of flexibility in areas of transit fee and possibly transitional financial assistance. On the border, the Panel may need to adopt dialogue and arbitration as basis for resolving amicably the contested border areas and to adopt its map for demilitarization of buffer zone. On Abyei, the Panel may need to put forward the conduct of referendum by a commission chaired by a neutral person to be appointed by the AU/UN and with equal members from both states and eligibility exclusively for the Ngok Dinka and other residents in the area except nomads. The Panel may need to suggest a package of how to mitigate the negative consequences that may be experienced by Sudan and nomads if the people of Abyei area opted to join the South as the most likely outcome of the referendum.
I would like to congratulate President Salva for his leadership and courage during this difficult time of building our new nation and normalizing relation with the most difficult neighbour, the Sudan. One should also congratulate our negotiation team headed by Comrade Pagan in Ethiopia as they have not only outperformed the team of Sudan but have shown to the world that the newest nation is indeed a responsible member state of the United Nation and is keen to promote peace and stability not only with Sudan but also with all its neighbours. We should encourage and support our President and the negotiations team to take bold and far-sighted decisions that will bring peace, stability and prosperity to our new nation. Our nation has a bright future and any sacrifice today by the people of the South for a better future is worth taking. We are dealing with a desperate and reckless regime in Khartoum that has no hope in the future but a neighbour that we cannot change except through good relations. This puts the leadership of the South on higher moral ground to look far ahead in creating a prosperous and peaceful future with friendly cooperation and good relations with the Sudan.
Luka Biong Deng is a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) the ruling party of South Sudan. He is currently serving as the Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee on appointment of South Sudan President Salva Kiir. He can be reached at email@example.com.