Sudan, South continue troubled talks

2012-09-25 22:42

Addis Ababa - The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan met for a third day on Tuesday with progress in talks supposed to resolve a raft of contentious issues proving slower than anticipated.

Despite international pressure to reach a deal, the talks - originally billed as a one-day meeting - have reportedly run into trouble on contested border regions and security issues.

"The meetings continue on Tuesday ... the issues will be discussed," top South Sudanese official Deng Alor told reporters after the presidents broke late on Monday, with delegates on both sides apparently gloomy at the chance of a deal.

Sudanese delegation official El-Obeid Morawah said that "progress had been made" but did not give clear details.

The protracted talks under African Union mediation began in the Ethiopian capital several months before South Sudan split in July 2011 from what was Africa's biggest nation, following an independence vote after decades of war.

The pair launched their latest summit Sunday night, following marathon efforts by their rival delegations to close gaps on a raft of issues left unresolved when the South became independent last year.

Key issues include the ownership of contested regions along their frontier - especially the flashpoint Abyei region - and the setting up of a demilitarised border zone after bloody clashes.

The buffer zone would also potentially cut support for rebel forces in Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions that Khartoum accuses Juba of backing, just as the South accuses Sudan of arming rebels in its territory.

The United Nations set a deadline for a deal after brutal border clashes broke out in March, when Southern troops briefly wrested the valuable Heglig oil field from Khartoum's control, and Sudan launched bombing raids in response.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon has called on the leaders to tackle their remaining differences, "so that their summit concludes with a success that marks an end to the era of conflict".

Despite slow progress, both sides appeared keen to end the conflict and a stalemate over stalled oil production that is crippling their respective economies.

A comprehensive deal - as opposed to another stepping-stone agreement - would have to include a settlement on Abyei, a Lebanon-sized border area claimed by both sides and currently controlled by Ethiopian peacekeepers.

But amidst some diplomatic optimism, there seemed little chance of a breakthrough to solve the growing humanitarian crises in Sudan's civil war states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

However, it was hoped the summit would settle the details of last month's deal to fix the oil export fees that landlocked South Sudan will pay to ship crude through Khartoum's pipelines to the Red Sea.

At independence, Juba took two-thirds of the region's oil, but processing and export facilities remained in Sudan.

In January, the South shut off oil production after accusing Sudan of stealing its oil.