September 25, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – African Union (AU) mediators have decided to extend the ongoing summit between Sudan President Omer Al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir Mayardit until Friday, 28 September, after another round of lengthy talks made little headway.
- FILE PHOTO - Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir welcomes his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir during his arrival at Khartoum Airport October 8,2011 REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
The high-profile summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa entered its fourth day on Tuesday with the two presidents holding their fifth closed-door meeting which, as in the case of previous rounds, tackled the issues of establishing a demilitarized zone along the 1,800km border and proposals to determine the final status of the hotly-contested region of Abyei.
Tuesday’s meeting lasted for three hours and was attended by officials representing the Khartoum-backed Misseriya tribe and Dinka Ngok of South Sudan. Both groups claim the right to vote in a referendum to determine the status of the oil-producing area.
South Sudan already accepted a proposal by the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) to hold a referendum in Abyei in October 2013 with the eligibility to vote given to members of Dinka Ngok and Misseriya members residing in the area.
Whereas the two sides refrained from commenting on what specifically happened during the meeting, they both confirmed it failed to reach an agreement on Abyei. Khartoum however indicated that the disagreements over the “Mile 14” area, which has been preventing progress on the demilitarized zone, are narrowing.
Speaking to Al-Jazzera TV channel, the spokesperson of Sudan’s foreign ministry Al-Obeid Adam Muraweh confirmed that the meeting addressed the issue of Abyei but said it did not witness a breakthrough.
Muraweh added that the discussions were still continuing and are expected to resume on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of South Sudan’s negotiating team, Atif Kiir, gave a more negative account of the progress made. He said that the two sides continue to disagree on the demilitarized zone due to Khartoum’s lack of political will.
But Muraweh contradicted South Sudan’s talk of no progress on the demilitarized zone, telling Al-Jazeera that the disagreement over Mile 14 area has narrowed significantly compared to previous rounds.
He went on to suggest that the issue of Mile 14 could be resolved today but cautioned that this expectation is not guaranteed especially that the issue is connected to other issues of contention.
Khartoum insists that in order to accept an AU map delimiting the demilitarized zone, South Sudan must pull out its troops from "Mile 14" - an area of 23 Kilometers south of a river known as the Bahr Al-Arab in Sudan and the Kiir River in South Sudan.
Leaks from Addis Ababa suggest that South Sudan agreed to withdraw troops from the area but this has not been confirmed by officials.
President Omer Al-Bashir has also indicated that the differences over “Mile 14” are narrowing.
Speaking to a handful of chief editors of Sudanese newspapers on Monday evening, he said that the talks between him and Salva Kiir are proceeding in a positive way.
He said that both sides are exhibiting a level of flexibility allowing a deal to be reached.
The Sudanese leader also confirmed that the disagreement over “Mile 14” had become marginal.
Al-Bashir added that he believes that the area should be demilitarized and run through local administration as was the tradition for hundreds of years.
Speaking of Abyei, Al-Bashir said they intend to reach a final settlement to the dispute through a separate track.
The president opined that improvement of relations between Sudan and South Sudan through resumption of oil exportation and cross-border trade will reflect positively on the determination of Abyei’s final status as well as talks on the security situation in the border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
- Front page of Al Sahafa, December 11, 2011 (TMCT)
Meanwhile, the Sudanese daily newspaper Al-Sahafah reported on Tuesday that Sudan proposed that “Mile 14” be completely demilitarized while South Sudan offered to redeploy its troops by 5.11 kilometers south of Bahr Kiir/Bahr Al-Arab as delimited by the AU map.