October 14, 2012 (JUBA) - Leading officials from South Sudan’s governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have admitted compelling conditions behind the signing of the cooperation agreement with the government of neigbouring Sudan and pleaded for public support in the face of sustained criticisms.
- Sudan’s chief negotiator Idris Mohamed Abdel Gadir (L) shakes hands with South Sudan’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum after signing the cooperation agreement on 27 September 2012 (Reuters)
Most criticism has focused on the inclusion of Mile 14 in the border buffer zone. The Governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and other officials and civilians from the state say that the area is not in dispute and should never have been included in the demilitrosed area 10 kilometre either side of a nominal border proposed by the Arican Union mediation.
SPLM officials, including South Sudan’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum have said that those who have criticise the deal do not understand it as the inclusion of Mile 14 in the buffer zone will have no bearing border demarcation, the two sides and the AU and UN Security Council have agreed.
On Monday South Sudan President Salva Kiir is expected to appear before parliament to persuade lawmakers to vote through the deal to allow its implementation to begin.
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Paul Mayom Akec, told an event predominantly members of the civil right activists on Saturday that the deal was needed for the country’s flagging economy and restore its reputation in the region.
Akec, who was a member of negotiating team in Addis Ababa said: “We must be realistic to ourselves. We all know the condition we are in. We have been denied loans since April. We have been made unpopular in the region because of shutting down oil production.”
South Sudan stopped oil production at the beginning of the year in a transit fee dispute with Khartoum. The resumption of oil production was contingent on border and security deals also being reached.
Akec told audience that the United States was to blame for some of the "confusion" over the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
The Americans "were the ones who went to Western Bahr el Ghazal and say there are minerals in Hufra Nahas and Kafia Kinji and they announced existence." This he said meant that the Sudanese government - then led by President Ibrahim Aboud - to annex the area to north.
Akec said the same had occured in Heglig/Panthou after oil was discovered in the area, during President Jafa’ar Nimeiri’s rule.
"When it was announced president Nimery came out and said the oil was discovered somewhere few kilometers south of Khartoum to fool the world. He actually decided to give western Upper Nile new name because of oil. He named it Unity. So you see clearly where the problem came”, he explained.
The two sides fought a border war over Heglig in April this year. The conflict led to the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 2046 under Chapter VII of its Charter demanding both sides come to agreement on all outstanding issues pertaining to South Sudan’s independence last year.
The senior official pleaded the public, asking them to avoid being negative about the agreement, asserting that there were compelling conditions behind signing of the deal.
Gabriel Changson Chang, Minister of Wildlife and Tourism blasted critics of the deal, arguing that the same people would have gone to the street to protest if there was no agreement.
“We have to be honest with ourselves when approaching issues of national concerns as such. There was nothing the negotiating team did not do to protect the interest of our country. We actually have done what anyone among you with the national interest at heart would have done. If we did not sign this agreement, I am sure the same people criticizing now would have gone on the street to protest in order to cause havoc and instability”,said minister Chang.
Chang tried to dismiss fears and increasingly growing public criticisms over the buffer zones and four freedoms agreement. The "four freedoms" agreement was initially in March 2012 creating a framework allowing citizens of both states to enjoy freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose property.
The minister argued that the deals were transitional arrangements which provide ways to establish a joint security committee that would "control the security situation on both sides of the border in the framework of respecting the national sovereignty of the two countries."
In its Resolution 2046 the Security Council said "that the center line of the (Safe Demilitarised Border Zone) SDBZ in no way prejudices the current or future legal status of the border, ongoing negotiations on the disputed and claimed areas, and demarcation of the border."
“It is true we see things differently. There are those who see security arrangements from different perspectives but we at the negotiating team also see it differently. We see it from the perspectives that make security arrangement different from border demarcation. This was just one of the arrangements prerequisite to create conducive security environment for resumption and flow of the oil through Sudan as it has been agreed by the two parties”, he explained.
The thorny issue of contested areas was left unresolved in the 27 September deal, leaving the status of Abyei, Heglig, Kafia Kinji and other border areas to be resolved in future talks.
Luka Biong Deng, a Co-Chair of Abyei Joint Oversight Committee said the deal was one of the best temporary options which the negotiating team could accept to end dispute with Sudan.
Biong called for objective analysis of each detail of the agreement and the need to dialogue instead of being locked in blaming negotiators, describing Chief Negotiator, Pagan Amum, as long experienced and “shrewd negotiator with national interest at heart as top priority”.
“I think we need to be sincere. We need to place trust and confidence in our negotiating team. We do not need to doubt them. Someone like comrade Pagan Amum as you all know is someone with national interest. He cut [short] his education as second year student at Khartoum University and decided to join Anyanya II because of this land”, he explained.
The leading official was reacting to a remark accusing Amum of having sold out over the issue of disputed areas as he was afraid of international pressure which includes sanctions.
General Garang Mabil, a close and long time military ally of President Salva Kiir Mayardit, expressed his anger and dissatisfaction with the agreement, asserting that the deal sells out the land and violates grievances and values for which many in the country took up arms.
“We will not accept this agreement by all means. It is very bad. Our forces will not draw from 14 mile area. It has never been there before. How come it has been included in the agreement? The so called additional special arrangement is not acceptable and it must be clear now. If Pagan Amum is afraid, then let him go”, Mabil told audience amid overwhelming applause.
Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol, a senior government official and a lecturer at Juba University, expressed “bitter displeasure” with the deal. He criticized those who confused individuals expressing personal opinions and with opposition against President Salva Kiir.
“It is the right of the people to ask and express their opinions. The 14 mile area has never been a contested area and when people talk about how it is not part of Sudan, people take it as that those talking about it are against the president. This is completely wrong”, explained Wol.
Atem Yaak Atem, deputy minister of information and broadcasting service said that he thought that representatives from border states should be involved in future talks relating to the border and contested areas.
Alfred Taban,Editor in Chief of the Juba Monitor newspaper, previously known as the Khartoum Monitor before the split of the country in in July 2011, expressed his disappointment with the deal, particularly the four freedoms element. He called on the parliament to amend the deal before passing it.
“I would certainly begin my remarks with the attack on the government because the agreement is actually bad for our people to accept. Just look at four freedoms, they bring no benefits at all”, explained Taban.
Nhial Bol Akeen, Editor in Chief of The Citizen, a daily English newspaper, equally disapproved of the agreement, noting that he had been "summoned three times by security" services since the agreement was signed.
"My views have been censored. This shows that the agreement is bad otherwise they would not have sanctioned them if it was good”, he explained.