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Khartoum signals optimism as oil talks with South Sudan starts

February 12, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Negotiations between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan over oil officially started on Sunday as Khartoum indicated a relaxation in Juba’s decision to halt production of the commodity.

Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir (C) walks out with former South African President Thabo Mbeki (L) and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit (2nd R) (Reuters)

The talks were originally scheduled to commence on Friday but were delayed for unknown reason.

Previous rounds of protracted negotiations failed to yield an agreement on a fair charge to transport South Sudan’s oil through Sudan’s infrastructure, triggering a crisis that saw Khartoum confiscating oil and Juba suspending production all together.

The stand off gave rise to heightened tension and frantic diplomatic efforts by regional and international stakeholders to avert renewed conflict as officials from both countries exchanged warnings of renewed war.

Sunday’s talks on oil commenced after Sudan’s delegation, led by the minister of the Presidency, Idris Mohamed Abdul Gadir, and South Sudan’s delegation, led by the secretary general of the ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) Pagan Amum, arrived in Addis Ababa.

Meanwhile, Sudan Tribune has learned that the two sides had exchanged proposals on how to export South Sudan’s oil via Sudan during the opening session of the talks on Sunday.

In a press release issued on the same day, the Sudanese team stated that South Sudan’s government had expressed readiness to resume exporting the country’s oil through Sudan “as soon as the two sides reach a commercial agreement in this regard”.

The release added that the Sudanese delegation had presented its proposals on border demarcation and fees to transport South Sudan’s oil through Sudanese territories.

Khartoum’s team said that its Southern counterpart also presented a proposal on oil transit fees, adding that the session was adjourned to give both sides an opportunity to study each others proposals.

The Sudanese Media Center (SMC), a website closely linked to Khartoum’s intelligence community, quoted a source “close to the talks” as saying that the Southern delegation came to this round of talks with a spirit of rationality that was absent in previous rounds.

“It seems that the Southern delegation after carefully discussing [Juba’s decision to halt oil production] with oil companies and the alternative routes has concluded that there is no option but to transport oil through Sudan,” the source added.

It is not clear what chances of success this round of talks has in view of the fact that the positions of the ex-war foes on transit fees remain far apart.

Khartoum says it wants to $32 per oil, a figure regarded by Juba as greatly inflated and outside of international norms.

South Sudan took with it three quarters of Sudan’s daily oil production of 500,000 barrels when it seceded in July under a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil wars between the two sides.