Sudan, South to start marking border

2012-02-16 21:01

Khartoum - Sudan and breakaway South Sudan will immediately begin demarcating their border, a negotiator said on Thursday, after the latest effort to resolve disputes that have raised fears of fresh fighting.

At talks this week in Addis Ababa a joint committee "reached an agreement to start demarcation of the border immediately. It has to finish within three months," Yahya Hussein, a member of Khartoum's negotiating team, told reporters.

He said both sides already agree on about 90% of the border, and they will wait to resolve five areas that remain in dispute.

South Sudan split from Sudan in July after an overwhelming vote for independence following more than two decades of war that killed some two million people.

Border tensions have since flared, with each side accusing the other of supporting rebels within its territory, while a major dispute over oil transit fees remains unresolved after the latest negotiations in the Ethiopian capital.

South Sudan took three quarters of Sudan's oil when it gained independence, but all pipeline and export facilities are controlled by the north, leaving the two sides disagreeing over how much the South should pay to use the infrastructure.

Juba last month halted oil production after accusing Khartoum of stealing its crude.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the crisis between the neighbours has become a major threat to regional peace and security.

Ethnic southerners

Britain on Wednesday expressed "grave concern at the recent build-up of forces and escalation of tensions in conflict-affected border areas".

Since last year Sudanese troops have been fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, along the boundary, against ethnic minority insurgents who fought beside the former rebels now ruling South Sudan.

Sources this week told AFP Sudan's military has stopped the return of South Sudanese by barge on the White Nile river because of suspicions they are also being used by the South to reinforce troops near the tense frontier.

"The South Sudanese government ordered those boats to carry military equipment from Juba to Renk near the Sudanese border," Hussein alleged, denying Khartoum ordered a halt to movement of returnees by barge.

Up to 700 000 ethnic southerners are estimated to still be in Sudan ahead of an April deadline for them to either go South or normalise their status with the Khartoum authorities.