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South Sudan reiterates assurances not to arrest Bashir

March 25, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan reiterated on Saturday that it will not arrest Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir, when he visits Juba next April for talks with his counterpart Salva Kiir.

Presidents Bashir and Kiir (file photo/Reuters) The presidential summit of 3 April is expected to endorse a deal negotiated in Addis Ababa on borders and four freedoms, which has proved controversial among Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. The two presidents also have to tackle over the other pending issues such as security, oil transit fees and Abyei.

South Sudan’s chief negotiator, Pagan Amum who is also the Secretary General of South Sudan’s ruling SPLM met Bashir in Khartoum on 22 March to extend Kiir’s invitation and to reassure that the South Sudanese government would not arrest him.

Some civil society and human rights groups in newly independent South Sudan have called for the Juba government to arrest Bashir as per the arrest warrants issued for him by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide alleged to have taken place during in Darfur during the first years of the crisis.

But Pagan Amum, said on Saturday that Bashir’s visit was important because it would address issues which the two parties were not able to resolve between the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and South Sudan’s independence last year.

Speaking in Juba after his return from Khartoum he brushed aside apprehensions that Bashir would be arrested when he visits Juba saying such fears are "baseless".

"President Bashir is coming for dialogue on the remaining post secession issues between the two countries, especially issues connected to border demarcation, citizenship, and the contentious issues of Abyei, financial arrears, oil dispute," said Amum.

Amum further argued that as the SPLM had signed the CPA with the National Congress Party (NCP) government led by Bashir in Khartoum and they were obligated to engage with him "to complete implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and build peace to promote better relations" regardless of the arrest warrant.

"I would like to put it clearly that all the fears by NCP or by any concerned South Sudanese that the aim of inviting President Bashir is because we have business that is not finished. It is a business of peace, it is a business of interest of the people of South Sudan," Amum said.

Amum said that the agreement on borders and citizenship could pave the way for progress to be made on other remaining issues such as oil, debt and Abyei.

In accordance with the four freedoms agreement brokered by the African Union panel inked in Addis Ababa on 13 March between the two parties, Sudanese and South Sudanese can travel, reside, work or have propriety in the two countries.

Qutbi al-Mahdi, a NCP leading figure, criticised the four freedoms agrement as being premature and "illogical". He also described the Sudanese negotiators as "softies" who gave away too much to South Sudan.

Sudanese officials said this deal will not be implemented unless the parties reach a complementary deal related to security measures and particularly to the presence of Sudanese rebels in South Sudan.

Both sides accuse the other of backing rebel groups, and suspect each other of harbouring hopes of regime change.