Africa: Will Newfound Rapport Between Juba and Khartoum Unlock Border Row?

The Ngok Dinka people are pressing for a final solution for their disputed home of Abyei, which lies on the border between Sudan and South Sudan.

A section of South Sudan civil society is lobbying Juba to take advantage of the newfound rapport with Khartoum to finalise the border demarcation that has been pending since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The civil society groups say that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who had been a major stumbling block in solving the disputed border areas, is now the driving force in the peace process, and is ready for amicable solutions.

"There has never been a better time than now to solve the border issues because Sudan is keen to come out of its economic crisis and is doing everything possible to ensure that there is peace in its biggest market," said Jervasio Okot, a South Sudanese political analyst.

Last week, the Joint Border Commission between Sudan and South Sudan met in Addis Ababa after a long break in which members resolved to speed up the process of border demarcation to strengthen the social and economic ties between the two countries.

Since South Sudan became independent in 2011, border demarcation has been a point of contentions despite the Thabo Mbeki-led African Union High Level Panel-- that mediates over pending issues of 2005 CPA--holding several meetings.

There are five disputed areas that are claimed by both countries: Oil-rich Abyei, Joudat Al-Fakhar, Jebel al-Migainais, Kaka and Kafia Kingi, also known as Hofrat al-Nahas.

John Pen, who represented South Sudanese civil society in the talks that led to the September 2018 peace agreement, told The EastAfrican that the border demarcation is overdue and should have been solved five years ago, but now there is a good chance because Khartoum wants to solve its economic problems and would not like an extra burden in the form of a border row.

He is however concerned that President Salva Kiir has gone soft on some disputed areas such as Abyei, mainly due to the pressure of the five-year civil war and his desire to be in the good books of President al-Bashir.

But James Morgan, the South Sudan permanent representative to the African Union, said that President Kiir is doing his best to ensure that the two countries solve the border issues in a peaceful manner, especially the Abyei Protocol which he has been pushing for implementation as per the letter and spirit of the 2005 CPA.

However, the two parties disagreed on the formation of a joint administration and there has been no progress to date.

More controversial is the Heglig and the Abyei question. In April 2012, a total of 5,000 South Sudan Army soldiers crossed into Sudan and occupied Heglig for 10 days, on the grounds that Khartoum was bombing its oil-rich towns along the border and overcharging on transportation through the pipeline. An oil depot at the main processing facility in Heglig was destroyed.

However, following the September 2018 agreement, the two countries embarked on joint repairs and oil is currently flowing from Heglig to Port Sudan.

But what is likely to be difficult is the Abyei issue, in an area that holds 25 per cent of South Sudan's oil resources. According to the Abyei Protocol in the CPA that was signed by President Omar al-Bashir and the late Dr John Garang in Nairobi, Abyei was supposed to have a referendum together with the South in 2011 to decide whether it belongs to Sudan or South Sudan.

However, the two countries are yet to agree on who has the right to participate in the referendum between the Ngok Dinka and the nomadic Misseriya.

In July 2005, the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC)--picked by both Juba and Khartoum--submits its final report on the boundary. But President al-Bashir has refused to accept its finding, declaring that the Commission exceeded its authority.

In May 2008, Khartoum's Sudan Armed Forces attacked villages north of Abyei and burnt Abyei town to the ground, killing dozens and displacing as many as 50,000 southwards.

The talks over Abyei resumed in June 2011 in Addis Ababa in which the two countries agreed to form Abyei Area Administration and the establishing of Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), but nothing much came out of it.

Tired of waiting, the Ngok Dinka unilaterally decided in October 2013, to hold their own referendum in which over 90 per cent voted that they belonged to South Sudan. However, the referendum was rejected by Khartoum, Juba and the AU.

Mr Morgan says that had Juba recognised the outcome of the self-administered referendum, it could have caused serious condemnation worldwide and would have amounted to a declaration of war against Sudan.

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