Juba — The leaders of South Sudan and Sudan have agreed to reopen border areas between their countries in a bid to boost trade and the free movement of people.
The agreement between new Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, reached late Thursday, is significant because several border areas remain closed, including Heglig in South Sudan's former Unity State, Kafiakinji in Raja in South Sudan, and El-Khurasana in Sudan's Western Kordofan state.
South Sudan's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Deng Dau Deng, said he and Sudan's foreign minister, Asma Mohamed Abdalla, touched on the disputed, oil-producing region of Abyei during their talks.
"Of course the issue of Abyei is a fundamental issue because we want a final status on the resolution on the conflict of Abyei. The current government in Khartoum and the sovereign council and the Cabinet are very open in addressing the issues that are outstanding between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan," said Dau.
Dau said Hamdok also met with the leaders of various Sudanese rebel groups during a two-day visit to Juba that ended Friday and reaffirmed his government's commitment to ending hostilities with the rebel groups.
A Sudanese government delegation and the rebel groups signed a declaration of principles in Juba and agreed to hold peace talks next month. Dau said part of the reason for Hamdok's visit to Juba was to cement that process.
"To show the commitment of the Sovereign Council and the Cabinet itself, so there was no new position from him. It's only to reaffirm both the sovereign Council and the Cabinet [are in support of the peace process]," Dau told VOA.
Despite Sudan's 21-year civil war, which led to South Sudan's independence, Sudanese Foreign Minister Abdalla said Sudanese and South Sudanese are still "brothers and sisters."
"We have been one country and now we are two countries but we are still one nation and we hope to develop our relations. We would like also to take the opportunity of the positive atmosphere between the two countries to further our cooperation and make sure that all the issues between our two countries will be solved," Abdalla told VOA.
Abdalla said the post-Comprehensive Peace Agreement issues that remain unresolved since South Sudan became independent in 2011 will be dealt with in the atmosphere of political cooperation that exists between the two countries.
South Sudan's foreign affairs minister, Awut Deng Acuil, said both countries must focus on ensuring peace and stability for their people.
"I think time has come for us in the two countries to silence the guns. The war is no more option for our people. We need to have peace and sustainable peace in the two countries," said Deng.
Hamdok told reporters upon his arrival in Juba on Thursday he was looking forward to a strategic partnership with South Sudan, adding "the sky is the limit" for that relationship.
"We hope to have very prosperous relationship that will address issues of trade, border issue, oil, free movement of our people between the two countries and all these agendas," said Hamdok.
South Sudan Vice President James Wani Igga sounded equally optimistic about the South Sudan/Sudan relationship now that former longtime Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is out of power.
"I believe he [Hamdok] is going to come up with very strong effective policies and especially our border relations and especially the trade between the two countries and especially the issue of the oil and we are really one people, two countries," said Igga.
This was Hamdok's first visit to South Sudan since being sworn in as Sudan's prime minister on August 21.