By Ngor Arol Garang
March 18, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan remains split over whether the country should receive Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir for talks on key post-independence issues in the capital Juba.
In recent days senior figures in South Sudan’s ruling party - the SPLM - have given contradictory views on whether Bashir should visit and whether he should be arrested for alleged war crimes in Darfur if does.
- Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir (R) welcomes his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir (C) during his arrival at Khartoum Airport October 8 ,2011 (REUTERS)
A meeting between Bashir and his counterpart, Salva Kiir, is expected in the next few weeks to sign a border and four freedoms deals initiated by the delegations from the two countries Sudan in Addis Ababa on March 13, 2012.
The visit, which would reciprocate Kiir’s visit to Khartoum in October last year, will is managed to allow the two leader to break the deadlock over many other files.
The framework agreements allow nationals of each state the rights to enjoy “freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose property".
Last Wednesday, South Sudan top negotaitor Pagan Amum who is also the SPLM secretary general said he is aware that Sudanese president Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) but his country will not arrest him “because we have problems to settle first” and that South Sudan does not hold an ICC membership.
Luka Biong Deng, a senior member of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) commended the signing of the framework agreement on the four freedoms as well as reaching the deal on the border demarcation.
However, Biong said it would be wise if the venue where the two heads of state are scheduled to meet can be changed so it does not compromise South Sudan’s international values and moral obligations.
"With due respect to the position of [the SPLM’s] Secretary General, comrade Pagan Amum, I think it would be wise holding the summit elsewhere if the intention is to reach genuine agreement. The venue should actually remain Addis Ababa," Biong told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
He said that holding the summit in South Sudan would reflect badly on the new nation struggle, which fought Khartoum for over two-decades until a peace deal with Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) granted the region self determination.
Biong said that the Sudanese government is "killing of innocent civilians" in Darfur, where conflict started in 2003 as well in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the group allied to the SPLM began fighting the government last year.
"The killing of innocent civilian amounts to crimes against humanity”, Biong said.
The senior official who served as a cabinet minister in SPLM-NCP power sharing government Sudanese government, which was dissolved after South Sudan’s independence said “it would not be ethical or moral to allow those behind the killings in Darfur including his contested region of Abyei to get away with their crime for mere public relations”.
Biong, a native of the contested Abyei region is the Co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), which represents the Presidents of the two countries in the area.
Deng Ajok Dut, another member of the country’s ruling SPLM said he supported Biong’s position saying that the Juba government should not compromise its moral obligations and arrest alleged war criminals regardless of their political status.
“In my view, we need to act swiftly in order to avoid making mistakes. We have the moral obligations to stand with the citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains and of course citizens from Abyei”, Dut said.
Dut also question Amum’s statement the there was no obligation to arrest Bashir if he set foot in Juba.
"I think the leadership of our party will have to sit down and discuss thoroughly whether inviting President Bashir to Juba is really in the interest of South Sudanese when everyone knows he is indicted. We are still a young nation with a lot of things to do together with the international community" Dut said.
On Saturday a coalition of major civil society organisations in South Sudan issued a statement rejecting the position of the Secretary General of the SPLM Pagan Amum that the Juba government has no obligation to arrest Bashir if he travels to Juba for the crucial talks.
Bashir attended South Sudan’s independence ceremony on 9 July last year but tensions have steadily risen between the two nations, who have fallen out over oil transit fees for southern oil. Both sides fear that the other has a policy of regime change, with regular accusations that rebels groups are receiving outside support.
Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for the conduct of Sudan’s army and paramilitaries in the nine-year Darfur conflict and is wanted to stand trial in The Hague. However, eight-month-old South Sudan is not a member of the court.
BIONG BACKS DEAL
Despite his misgivings over Bashir’s potential visit Biong said he fully supports the four freedoms and border deal describing it as “important step” to resolving contentious issues which the two parties have not been able to resolve over the years.
“I must recognise the importance of this agreement, especially the agreement on four freedoms. It has far reaching benefits particularly to the government in Sudan because it has citizens, whose livelihood depends largely on peaceful co-existence through building harmonious relations with the republic of South Sudan”, Biong told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
“There are about two million nomads from the north who enter the South every year to access water and pasture for their cattle. This explains why this particular agreement is very important to the north more than the South which has only about 500,000 to 700,000 people [in the north]”, he explained
The senior official believes that honouring the deal would have social and economic benefits that would encourage mutual relations and viability of the two states since citizens from both states would continue to interact with each other by enjoying freedom to reside, move, acquire and dispose off (sell) their properties while being able to undertake economic activities within the territories of the two states without fear of being their property being confiscated.
Luka Biong Deng - Co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) discusses his perspective on the current political and economic situation in North and South Sudan.
Biong was speaking in Juba as part of an event - Juba calling: what next for South Sudan? - which was held on the 14th March 2012 at the offices of the Overseas Development Institute in London.