Khartoum/Wau — Hopes for a breakthrough in post-secession negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan are running high ahead of a summit between the presidents of the rival countries in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday.
The summit will take place on the same day in which the extended deadline set by the UN Security Council (UNSC) through Resolution 2046 for the conclusion of the negotiation expires on 22 September. Resolution 2046 threatened non-military sanctions on both sides should they fail to reach a deal on borders issues as well as oil production, security and the contest Abyei area.
One of the main sticking points has been the buffer zone proposed the African Union, which is mediating between South Sudan and Sudan, is designed to avoid the kinds of military confrontation seen in April this year when the two sides fought over an oil-producing oil area claimed by both sides.
Sudan President Omer Al-Bashir is due to leave Khartoum for Addis Ababa on Sunday for a two-day visit in which he will meet Kiir and honor an invitation from Ethiopia's acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for an Ethiopian-Sudanese summit, according to officials.
The official spokesperson of Sudan's negotiating delegation, Badr Al-Deen Abdualla, pointed out on Thursday that the presidential summit is set to tackle three levels of issues. He said that the first level concerns the agreements that had already been initialed on 13 March such as the citizenship and border demarcation agreements.
Abdualla, who was quoted by Sudan official news agency (SUNA), said that the second level is related to the issues that have been agreed but not signed, in reference to the oil agreement the two sides announced last month. He added that the third level is related to the issues in which some progress has been made.
However, the spokesperson admitted that there are some "obstacles" and some issues with little progress. All of them, he added, will be on the table of discussion between the two leaders. He went on to stress that all issues must be resolved "especially the security issue"
Abdualla gave an optimistic account of the progress in the talks over the last few days. He said that all issues of economic cooperation are in the "final stages" and that the negotiations focused in the last two days on discussing the security issue.
He also revealed that the Sudanese delegation for the negotiation on the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile between the government and rebels Khartoum accuses Juba of backing has held a meeting with AU mediators and submitted its response to proposals on resolving the conflict.
Abdullahi pointed out that the mediation team of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) of former South African President Thabo Mbeki has sent a proposal to the two presidents for resolving the dispute on the contested region of Abyei.
The mediators' seven-page proposal on Abyei suggests annexation of the region to South Sudan either through a referendum or a political agreement in exchange for the latter to provide a set of safeguards guaranteeing the rights of Al-Messiryah tribe to enter the region and graze their cattle without obstacles.
Abdullahi, however, insisted that all these agreements will not be signed unless within a comprehensive agreement that resolves the "security issue"
Sudan ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdel Rahman Sir Al-Khatim, told SUNA on Thursday that Al-Bashir summit with Kiir is hoped to thrash out the issues which the negotiators failed to reach an agreement on. He added that Al-Bashir is expected to meet members of the Sudanese negotiating delegation and the AUHIP before holding the summit with Kiir.
On Thursday Reuters reported Abdelrahman Sir al-Khatim, a senior member of Sudan's delegation, as saying: "I believe Bashir and Salva Kiir will be here to achieve something for the people of their countries ... We hope they will succeed and sign an agreement."
Meanwhile, the UNSC listened on Thursday to a report from the UN Special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, Haile Menkerios, who confirmed positive developments in the progress of negotiations between Khartoum and Juba, according to Sudan representative at the UN Dafa Allah Al-Haj.
Al-Haj said that Menkerios's report, which was read in a closed routine session of the UNSC on the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, indicated that there are positive developments in the talks. He added that UNSC members expressed hopes that the two sides will reach an agreement in the remaining period of the deadline.
Previously the United States has expressed concern over the "lack of urgency" exhibited by both Sudan and South Sudan in the implementation of the resolution. Progress regarding South Sudan resuming the export of its oil through Sudan was made in August but many other issues relating to South Sudan's independence from Sudan in July last year have yet to be resolved.
Progress in the talks has also been confirmed by South Sudan whose negotiating team has expressed optimism over the possibility of settling the differences with Sudan over border issues.
The spokesperson of South Sudan's team at the talks, Atif Kheer, told Sudan Tribune on Thursday that the two sides were making progress
"Our team has been engaged in progressive discussions since resumption of this round. Much of it has been consultations with leadership over issues which needed inputs", he said.
As part of the negotiations pertaining to South Sudan's secession from Sudan in July 2011 the two countries established the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) which consists of both sides as well as independent observers.
The JBVMM border mission is to work in an area defined as a "safe demilitarised border zone" (SDBZ). In November 2011 the AU High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) laid out in a map, which has proved controversial with both governments raising objections over contested areas.
South Sudan has accepted the map for the purposes of the JBVMM, which the AUHIP insists will not be prejudicial to any final resolution of the many areas of contention along the 1,800km border.
However, Khartoum has opposed the AUHIP map and has focused its objection on an area known as "Mile 14" - 14 mile wide area south of a river known as the Bahr el-Arab in Sudan and the Kiir River in South Sudan.
The UN Security Council has joined the AU in calling for Khartoum to accept the map so that the mission can begin its work. That the SDBZ in no way prejudices any final resolution on the thorny issue has been strongly articulated in both the Roadmap on ost-secession issues put forward by the African Union Peace and Security Council and by UN Security Council resolution 2046 later in 2012. Furthermore the UNSC resolution obliges both Khartoum and Juba to accept the AUHIP map.
The SDBZ is designed to prevent borders clashes, such as those that erupted in April 2012 over the oil-rich region of Heglig/Panthou, which Sudan says lies South Kordofan, while South Sudan claims it is Unity State.
The temporary buffer zone is intended to prevent any attempts to alter the border by force, safeguard against cross-border military action and stop rebel groups moving across it.
The implementation of the SDBZ does not transfer sovereignty or alter local administration of any of the disputed border areas. It has no implication for any eventual agreement on the permanent Sudan-South Sudan border.
The official called for patience and stressing that they are working hard to protect interest of South Sudan while exerting diplomatic efforts to ensure a deal is reached between the two nations.
"Our team has made impressive steps in all rounds because our strategic objective is to reach a fair deal on all outstanding issues so that our citizens, especially those on the border resume their normal life", he said explaining there are areas where border crossing will not stop if even borders are drawn.