Khartoum and Juba: Critical issues and a fragile treaty

Salah Khalil, Monday 20 Feb 2012

Can the most recent non-aggression treaty between Sudan and S Sudan counter the years of mutual antagonisms over oil, borders, water and violence?

Kiir and Bashir
(L-R) Presidents Salva Kiir and Omar Al-Bashir meet for talks in Ethiopia (Photo: AFP)

The governments of Sudan and South Sudan signed a non-aggression treaty to contain their border dispute. It was brokered under the auspices of the African Union (AU) and a committee of African elders in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on 10 February.

The treaty addresses several security, political and economic issues that could ease tense relations between the two countries since the South seceded on 9 July 2011. It is also a key step to prepare for dialogue on a number of difficult issues such as oil, border demarcation, foreign debt and armed groups. It also encourages each side to stop supporting the opposition in the other country, which could contribute greatly to stabilising the region.

Unresolved problems between the two Sudans are hot, confusing and ambiguous topics in both countries. Partition only resolved one aspect of the intertwined relations between them, with many other issues not yet resolved, including ten known as "issues that follow the referendum."

The law on the referendum on self-determination issued in December 2009, stipulated that a number of agreements should be concluded if the South decides to secede: citizenship; currency; public service; the status of joint and combined entities; national security; intelligence apparatus; international agreements and treaties; assets and debts; oil rights (its production, transportation and export); environmental contracts in oil fields, water and ownership.

These issues should have been resolved before the official declaration of independence by the South on 9 July 2011, but the two sides were unable to reach any understandings or agreements.

There are four other sensitive issues that should have also been addressed in the phase preceding the referendum, namely: the demarcation of borders; the issue of the border area of Abyei, security arrangements and a plebiscite in the regions of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. This adds up to 14 unresolved problematic issues between the two countries.

The treaty signed by the intelligence chiefs of each country reads that they will each respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other and will not interfere in each other’s domestic affairs. They will also abstain from initiating any aggression, promote joint interests and peaceful co-existence, and especially refrain from missile attacks and supporting rebels on the other side.

The treaty also created a border monitoring mechanism between the two countries, where either side could file a complaint if there are any violations or infringements along a nearly 2,010 square kilometre border area. This body will be in charge of investigating any claims or accusations.

Finally, the treaty pushes for serious progress to reach a final settlement between the two countries under the umbrella of the AU.

But this month’s treaty is nothing more than an amended version of a previous agreement signed by the same committee at the end of last year in Khartoum. While the first agreement meeting was attended by the ministers of defence, interior and security from South Sudan and Sudan, these top Southern officials did not attend the Addis Ababa ceremony and, instead, sent less senior administrative officials in their place to negotiate with Sudan’s ministers of defence, interior and security.

The Sudanese delegation at first reacted by refusing to enter the negotiations but yielded after strong urging by African mediators.

The efforts of South Africa’s former president and chairman of the African Committee of Elders Thabo Mbeki was finally able to convince the two sides to sign the non-aggression treaty, despite the mismatched ranks present. The absence of the top South Sudan officials raised various questions and explanations, especially since African mediators said that the treaty would pave the way for future rounds of talks on oil and other outstanding issues.

It is unclear if this treaty is capable of truly clearing the air between Khartoum and Juba, to pave the way for resolving critical issues between the two sides through negotiations.

The head of the South Sudan negotiating team, Pagan Amum declared hours before heading to Addis Ababa that he is going to negotiate, “but we don’t expect any significant progress.”

Amum added that he expects some progress on some issues, but preempted negotiations by saying that his government will not cede more than 79 cents per barrel that is exported via northern territories.

Khartoum says that is too low and will not accept less than $36 per barrel, which demonstrates the huge disparity in the positions of both sides, and undercuts the possibility that the treaty will, in fact, resolve the disputes. Especially that the two former rivals – namely the ruling National Congress in the North and the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south that shared power before partition – began preparing in advance for the post-secession phase by placing obstacles and plotting against the other side after Sudan is divided.

Besides the public economic war, each side is covertly supporting rebel movements inside the other’s territories. This indicates that the recent non-aggression treaty did not diffuse the situation in any way and that the drums of economic war will not fall silent until disputes on the difficult issues of oil and borders are resolved.

This, however, seems to be a tall order, despite intension mediation efforts.

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