Home | News    Monday 23 April 2012

AU calls for resumption of North-South talks

April 22, 2012 (LONDON) - The African Union has called for Sudan and South Sudan to renew discussions on post-partition issues and end the conflict over its disputed oil-rich border that has derailed the AU mediated process.

Chairman of the Commission of the African Union Jean Ping (AFP)

Chairperson of Commission of the African Union (AU), Jean Ping, called for both sides to stop the "senseless fighting" and called on the two neighbours to "fully implement the security commitments they have entered into".

For nearly a month, fighting between the two nations has intensified over the oil-rich Heglig region which is claimed by both sides. Juba announced Friday that it was pulling out of the area to enable an environment whereby talks could resume but Khartoum has indicated that this could be some way off.

Khartoum denied the South Sudanese army (SPLA) decided to withdraw, insisting that it inflicted a military defeat on the army of its former province. The violence has been the worst since South Sudan seceded last year and tensions have further risen with Sudan’s president Bashir vowing to unseat the "insects" of South Sudan’s ruling party the SPLM.

Such threats are often part and parcel of the brinkmanship of Sudanese politics, analysts say, so it is unclear how seriously his comments should interpreted. South Sudan’s information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin described them as "unfortunate" to come from a head of state.

However, despite the recriminations, Ping encouraged the two sides to resume talks, under the auspices of the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

The AUHIP mediation has come in for criticism from both sides raising the prospect that new avenues of mediation may be explored to resolve the issues of security, border demarcation, nationality and citizenship, transitional financial arrangements related to oil transit fees, external debt and the disputed region of Abyei.

At the beginning of April Juba dispatched a high-level delegation including Marial to Nairobi to ask for the help of the Kenyan government in resolving the border crisis in what appeared to be an attempt to sideline Mbeki’s panel.

South Sudan’s information minister said Juba was unhappy not only with the AU report to the UN Security Council about the recent border clashes but also with the overall mediation process. If the AU process could not succeed seven-nation East African regional bloc IGAD should "take over mediation", Marial said.

IGAD played a key role in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the two-decade-long civil war between the SPLM and the Khartoum government. The landmark deal paved the way for South Sudan to secede in July last year but many of its provisions were not implemented.

As well as border demarcation, the disputed Abyei region has not held the referendum its was granted to determine its status and popular consultations were not completed in Blue Nile and were not started in South Kordofan where the SPLM-North have since last summer resumed hostilities with Khartoum.

Juba denies allegations that it still backs the SPLM-N and believes the AU should have been stronger in criticising the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) for bombing Unity State, the "aggression" which the SPLA said forced it to react by occupying Heglig for 10 days.

The "Sudanese army until today continues to bomb our areas yet the African Union does not see it as aggression," Marial complained on his visit to Nairobi.

Established in October 2009 to implement recommendations drafted by Mbeki’s African Union Panel on Darfur (AUPD), and despite its mandate being related to finding a solution to the Darfur conflict, the AUHIP has gradually shifted its focus to north-south issues.

Khartoum rejected Mbeki’s proposals on hybrid international/Sudanese courts in Darfur and in July President Al-Bashir scrapped an agreement with the SPLM-N in South Kordofan and Blue Nile that could have avoided or delayed the conflict in the two regions.

The AUHIP had hoped that, as it was signed by Bashir’s powerful assistant Nafie Ali Nafie, the deal would not be rejected.

In more than two years of mediation the panel has made few tangible breakthroughs and has faced many setbacks. A deal on citizenship and security issues was due to be signed by Bashir and Kiir in Juba on April 3 but the border clashes around Heglig led Khartoum to cancel the summit.

Bashir’s first Vice President Ali Osman Taha said Saturday that there will be no return to talks with Juba before the withdrawal of all its troops from Sudanese territory. Taha added that he doesn’t think peace will be achieved with Juba’s current leaders.

In his statement on Sunday Ping stressed "the need for both Parties to refrain from inflammatory statements which not only complicate the current and delicate situation, but also undermine the prospects for brotherly relations between the two states and their peoples. Such statements run contrary to the principles on the basis of which the two countries agreed to resolve the post?secession issues."

He paid tribute to Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi for his role as the current chairman of IGAD in supporting the efforts of the AHUIP.

Another IGAD member, Uganda, became embroiled in the north-south diplomatic fallout last week with the country’s military indicating that if the border conflict expanded into all out war Kampala would support South Sudan militarily in the event of an invasion by Khartoum.

"We will not sit by and do nothing. We will be involved having suffered a proxy war by Khartoum," the Daily Monitor quoted General Aronda Nyakairima, Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces, as saying, referring the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Nyakairima called for an urgent IGAD meeting to discuss the border conflict over Heglig.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission emphasised that "force will never bring about a lasting solution to the issues at hand".

Ping said in the statement: "Both Parties need to exercise the much-needed statesmanship and to be driven by a vision that takes into account the long-term interests of their countries and peoples, as well as by their responsibility towards the region, the rest of Africa and the larger international community."

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, Ping and the European Union have all urged the two sides to establish the joint border security bodies and dispute mechanisms they had agreed to in previous talks.