October 16, 2012 (JUBA) – Amid public dissent the South Sudan parliament ratified a cooperation agreement which president Salva Kiir with his norther counterpart, Omar al-Bashir signed on September 27 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis.
- South Sudanese members of parliament take the oath in the capital Juba on August 6, 2011 (Getty)
An overwhelming majority ,189 Members of Parliament (MP), voted to ratify the deal in its entirety on Tuesday and 15 members approved it with reservations seeking removal of the 14 mile area from the Safe Demilitarized Buffer Zone (SDBZ), in order to keep the South Sudanese army in the area.
Two motions in compliance with the parliamentary code of conduct, which regulates procedures, were raised to terminate the debate and put up motions in support of the movers after securing approvals.
A large crowd of civil right activists and residents of South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state on Monday staged a in Juba, waving placards and banners demanding the “immediate removal” of the 14 mile area from the SDBZ and from the next round of talks, as they see it as an encroachment upon their land.
The protests were met with cries by South Sudanese politicians, including President Salva Kiir, that the 14 mile caveat of the agreement had been misinterpreted; it being a temporary measure and not a granting of the disputed land to its northern neighbour.
Minister of parliamentary affairs and member of the negotiating team, Michael Makuei Lueth, moved the first motion seeking the house to terminate the debate and ratify the deal in totality.
Bellario Ahoy Ngong, a member of the national parliament representing Aweil South county in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, moved a second counter-motion objecting to the passage of the deal including the 14 mile area.
"I rise up to move the motion terminating the debate to endorse and adopt speech of the president and to ask the house to revoke a parliamentary resolution which approved shutting down of the oil production. The last is to ratify the cooperation agreement in its totality now that the house seems to have built consensus," said Lueth as he stopped before members seeking their approval.
He argued the pact would enable the country to restart oil production and resume cross-border trade with Sudan but Ngong argued the deal would enable the north to strengthen claims over the area.
"I rise up to move a motion terminating this debate and to ask the MPs to ratify this agreement with reservations on 14 mile area. It should be removed from the demilitarised buffer zone and to also keep our army there," said Ngong while waiting standing before MPs seeking their supports in his favour.
"I tried to swallow the bitter pills of the deal but was unable. This implies the 14 mile area could not be compromised. You may have heard that our people went out in the state to protest. You also witnessed it here yesterday. They were protesting inclusion of the 14 mile area in the demilitarized buffer zone. So we are standing with our people. We are here because of them. We are their representatives," Ngong told the house.
The house, in a sitting chaired by its speaker, James Wani Igga, endorsed the deal after Kiir on Monday called MPs to ratify recent agreements on cooperation reached with neighbouring Sudan. The deal address basic freedoms, border security, and oil transit fees among others which both countries sorely needed to end a series of violent disputes since their split more than a year ago.
Igga noted that it was the right of those assembled to be involved in the debate and to voice their opinions, but that they should not make it a personal matter, but rather focus upon the national interests.
South Sudan announced on 5 October that a committee would be formed to educate government officials and the civil population on the agreements reached with Khartoum.
Oil accounted for 98 per cent of South Sudan’s budgetary obligations before the pipeline through the north was shut in January in a dispute over transit fees.
The agreements include: payment of US$3.08 billion over three-and-half years to Sudan as financial assistance to the budgetary deficit due to secession of South Sudan; oil transit fee of about $9 per barrel on average; and the demilitarization of the borders.
"One area which has generated a lot of concerns and misinformation is the Mile-14. This land belongs to Malual-Dinka in Northern Bhar al-Ghazal. It is a known fact but we agreed to demilitarize it, because it is one of the requirements of the deal to resume oil production," Kiir told parliament, referring to a territory that has sparked protests.
"SPLA [South Sudan army] and the SAF [north Sudan army] must move out of the river, 10km to each side. There will be no military forces or armed civilians in this area. Our people have been demonstrating against their land has been given away. [...] We do not have such a mandate to do so. This is just a temporary arrangement,” added Kiir in an attempt to allay concerns raised by protesters waving placards and banners carrying various messages including “No deal at the expense of others."
Despite the protests some MPs and ministers built a consensus arguing the deal was at least what the country needs to pull through its economic woes sparked due to dispute with Sudan. “If you cannot trust members of the negotiating team, then you better listen to the President because it was him who appointed members of the negotiating team. Let us ratify it," argued Lueth.
Kiir downplayed fears and criticisms from the groups angered by the agreement, saying it was not the first time for him to be criticized. He cited criticism when signing the Machakos protocol on self-determination for people of South Sudan from Sudan in 2002, which culminated into 2005 peace deal.
"People are demonstrating. They are insulting. I respect their opinion because it is their democratic right but if supposed I say, okay, that agreement is bad. Let us go and fight. I don’t think that the people who are now raising slogans on the streets would even go there," Kiir told members of the house.