By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 31, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - Countries bordering Sudan and South Sudan, as well as international organisations, have called on Presidents Omar Hassan Al Bashir and Salva Kiir Mayardit to convene their planned 3 April meeting, which was cancelled by Khartoum after their armies clashed on Monday on their disputed border.
The calls were made during the third Sudan-South Sudan Consultative Forum (SSSCF) meeting held on Thursday at the African Union (AU) headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The forum comes as tensions between Sudan and South Sudan hit a peak this week, after a brief window where reconciliation and progress on outstanding issues related to South Sudan’s independence last year looked possible.
The direct military confrontation, which appears to be the worst since South Sudan’s secession last July, has raised fears of a return to full-scale war.
The forum was co-chaired by AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ramtane Lamamra, and the United Nations (UN) Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous.
Participating countries included, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Eritrea, Chad, Uganda. The AU, European Union, Arab league and UN Security Council (UNSC) permanent member states also took part stressing a need for the two leaders to hold the planned summit as soon as possible.
The forum underscored a need to avoid any hard-line positions and commitment from both parties to promptly engage in genuine negotiations on all remaining post-split issues if the two neighbours are to achieve their goals in terms of security, democracy and development, and meet the most basic needs of their peoples.
The meeting heard presentations from representatives of the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan.
It also received presentations from the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkarios; the AU/UN Joint Special Representative for the Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari; the Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde Johnson; and the Head of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), Lieutenant General Tadesse Werede Tesfay from the Ethiopian army.
The developments and challenges facing in the negotiations between Khartoum and Juba were at the core of the forum’s agenda. On Bashir’s cancelled 3 April trip to Juba he was scheduled to sign a deal, negotiated in Addis Ababa, regarding borders and citizenship rights.
It was also expected that Kiir would offer Bashir a revised offer on oil transit fees South Sudan was willing to pay Sudan for the export and refinery of its crude. Disagreement over the fee led to Juba halting production after Khartoum began to confiscate oil passing through its pipelines as it was not happy with the fee they were receiving.
The two parties were urged to exercise the new spirit of cooperation achieved during last round of talks, before the recent clashes, and recommit themselves to the political process to resolve their differences in order to realise two viable and mutually supportive and peaceful states.
SSSCF members consulted on how best to support the two countries in the ongoing efforts to bring lasting solutions and prosperity to both nations. A recent report from a a coalition of African and Arab civil society organisations indicated that a return to full scale war will cost the economies of Sudan and South, as well as neighbouring states and international actors over $100bn.
The contested region of Abyei was also discussed at the meeting, where a UN mandated Ethiopian force (UNISFA) has been deployed to oversee the pullout of both armies from the area.
Heavy fighting broke out there last year, with the northern military taking control of the area after a self-determination referendum on the future of the fertile oil-producing area did not go-ahead in January 2011 as planned.
Juba and Khartoum have not been able to agree who is allowed to take part in the plebiscite.
Both countries were urged to immediately establish the Abyei Administration, a key part of the part of the 20 June 2011 Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area.
The forum commended the Doha peace agreement signed between the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) last year and stressed that the Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) provides the basis for reaching a comprehensive political settlement to the Darfur conflict.
However, the three main Darfur rebels groups have rejected the deal with only one - the Justice and Equality Movement - attending the talks in the Qatari capital Doha last year.
JEM and the two factions of the Sudan Liberation Army have since joined forces with the SPLM-N in South Kordofan and Blue Nile to form the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) and have declared their intention to overthrow the government.
The meeting noted a need for a firm commitment from leaders of Sudan and South Sudan to promote inclusive governance and democratic reforms to settle their own worrying internal conflicts.
In Sudan the government is fighting insurgencies in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan and accuses Juba of supporting the SRF coalition.
South Sudan, has its own internal problems, most notably the conflict in Jonglei State where cattle raiding vendetta’s have displaced over 100,000 since December. Over 1,000 were killed in fighting there last year.
A disarmament campaign there began mid-March and is due to run until the end of April.