By William Davison and Franz Wild
(Bloomberg) — Sudan’s President Umar al-Bashir and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir met for the first time since January to push forward peace talks after African leaders called on them to resolve disputes that brought them to the brink of war earlier this year.
The two leaders held a one-on-one meeting yesterday for more than an hour on the sidelines of an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, as they sought a
“comprehensive agreement on all issues,” said Pagan Amum, South Sudan’s chief negotiator in the peace talks.
“South Sudan is determined,” Amum told reporters in the city yesterday. “We see also determination on the side of Sudan.”
Since the south’s secession a year ago, African Union-mediated talks between the two countries have failed to yield an agreement on oil transit fees and other issues, including the
rights of citizens of both countries on either side of the border and the status of the disputed territory of Abyei and other contested border regions.
The countries came to the brink of war in April as the talks collapsed. Sudanese fighter jets launched air strikes inside South Sudanese territory, while the Southern army occupied and then withdrew from Heglig, a contested area that
accounts for half of Sudan’s oil output.
Split Last July
South Sudan split from Sudan in July last year after an overwhelming vote in a referendum based on a 2005 peace deal.
The accord was intended to end a civil war that lasted for almost 50 years, except for a cease-fire from 1972 to 1983, between the Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional religions dominate. About 2 million people died in
the second phase of the conflict.
“We have chosen to resume negotiations and to engage the government of Sudan unconditionally whether they are bombing or
not,” Amum said. The south was last attacked about a week ago, he said. “Whether they are negotiating tactically or strategically, in good faith or not, this will only be confirmed
by the results of the negotiations.”
Negotiators from both sides will stay in Ethiopia’s Bahir Dar until August to wrap up the talks, Amum said.
Bashir declined to comment earlier yesterday. The South also halted its 350,000 barrels a day of oil shipments because of a disagreement on how much it should pay
for oil passing through the north. South Sudan accused Bashir’s government of stealing $815 million worth of crude. Sudan said it was confiscated to pay transportation fees.
China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd. operate most of the oil wells in the two countries.
On May 2, the UN Security Council expressed its intention to impose sanctions if the countries failed to resolve their disputes within three months. The parties will try to find solutions before the Aug. 2 deadline they were given, Amum said.
Whether to impose sanctions “would be left for PSC and UNSC to decide at that time, but so far they’ve been making progress,” Haile Menkerios, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s
special envoy, said in an earlier interview. Amum said the threat of sanctions was not a motivation for progress with the talks.