April 7, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s government denied on Monday that the Sudanese government had preconditioned diplomatic support to Juba with the withdrawal of Ugandan forces from the war-torn country.
- South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, is accompanied by his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan al-Bashir (L) after arriving at Khartoum Airport on 5 April 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
The denial comes after president Salva Kiir made a one-day visit to Khartoum on Saturday to meet his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan Al-Bashir to discuss bilateral relations and security issues.
South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011 as part of a six-year peace process, but for the last 15 weeks the army and ruling party of the young nation (SPLM) have been divided after an alleged coup attempt in December
Relations between the two Sudans have been strained since separation over oil transit fees, disputed border areas and security issues, but relations have improved over the past year after oil production resumed.
Khartoum, which has long had uneasy relations with Kampala, is reportedly unhappy about the presence of Ugandan troops in South Sudan. The Ugandan army intervened in the conflict taking the side of the government against the rebels who split from the army (SPLA) and the SPLM.
“The visit was a response to the invitation which president Bashir in January extended to our president. It could have occurred [a] long time ago but it was delayed because the president was attending to other important issues,” South Sudan’s deputy foreign affairs minister, Peter Bashir Gbandi, said on Monday. .
“The two leaders exchanged views on how they could work together to strengthen bilateral relations, especially mechanisms related to cooperation agreement,” he added.
Gbandi denied that Sudanese government had demanded withdrawal of the Ugandan troops from his country so that the former could provide diplomatic support against the participation of seven senior SPLM officials who Juba do not want to participate in the peace talks.
The seven SPLM figures were arrested in December accused of planning a coup against Kiir’s government. All those arrested deny the charges and were released to Kenya before travelling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the faltering negotiations talks are taking place.
Juba insists that only the armed parties to the conflict - the government and the rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar - have a place at the negotiating table.
Gbandi categorically denied that Khartoum had placed Uganda’s withdrawal as a condition for supporting Juba’s stance that the seven SPLM officials should not be part of the peace process.
Sudan and South Sudan are both members of IGAD the East African regional body leading the mediation attempt.
President Bashir said Kiir discussed “cooperation between the two countries for achieving peace and security,” Gbandi said, referring to the many issues that remain outstanding from Sudan and South Sudan’s split.
President Kiir said that he and his host had agreed on “mechanisms to implement the agreements” his country had signed with the former. The two sides last year signed a number of deals that addressed issues of border trade, security arrangements and oil sharing.
They also agreed to avoid hosting any of the other nation’s rebel groups.
Kiir said he would come back to Khartoum soon for further meetings with other Sudanese officials.
However, reports emerged later that the two leaders had issues they could not reach consensus on, resulting in the failure to issue a communiqué on the details of what they discussed behind closes doors before addressing a joint meeting.
A senior diplomat at the South Sudanese ministry of foreign affairs told Sudan Tribune on Monday that his country’s “relations with Sudan are improving”.
Increased stability around border areas are the “result of the exchange visits to promote dialogue between the two countries so that issues which are still pending are resolved amicably,” he said.
The recent visit “was also meant to solicit support and the role the Sudanese government can play in the current peace talks, especially in the upcoming extraordinary summit of the heads of state and governments of the IGAD member countries,” the senior diplomat said.
President Kiir went “to solicit support of the Sudanese government on two issues: temporary deployment of joint forces along the border areas and diplomatic support on the issue of the participation of the seven officials in the peace talks as [a] third party” to the negotiations, the diplomat said.
“President Bashir expressed the desire of his government to provide support, but emphasised that security talks must be completed so that the central line is demarcated if joint forces are to be deployed along the border. He also expressed concerns by IGAD member countries which call for withdrawal of Ugandan troops in the country, ” said the diplomat.
The Sudanese president “did not make it conditions for support” he claimed, but added that there are “indications that Sudan attaches some conditions for playing any role in favour of the government” in Juba.
The issue of Abyei, the main disputed area on the border was not discussed, according to the diplomatic source.