Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Negotiations between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan adjourned today after the Sudanese government requested time to return to Khartoum for high-level political consultations with President Omar al-Bashir and other key leadership. South Sudanese representatives also left Addis Ababa to hold similar consultations in Juba. The expectation is that the two sides will return to Addis Ababa on July 5 for three days of meetings, during which they will present readouts from their respective consultations.
During the course of the weeklong talks, held within the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, or JPSM, Khartoum and Juba discussed operationalization of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone, or SDBZ, and mechanisms for resolving the definition of the disputed areas along the north-south border. On the former, the parties agreed to send their monitors within the coming days to the temporary headquarters of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission, or JBVMM, located in Assosa, Ethiopia. International support staff has already been deployed to Assosa and are awaiting the arrival of their Sudanese and South Sudanese counterparts.
Importantly, the precise definition of the SDBZ remains unresolved, which, in turn, undermines the ability of the JBVMM to fully realize its mandate. To this end, South Sudan unconditionally accepted the map proposed by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, or AUHIP, as a basis for defining the SDBZ. Khartoum, however, refuses to accept the map because it places one of the disputed border areas—the so-called Monroe-Wheatley area—south of the temporary administrative north-south borderline. South Sudan’s Chief Negotiator, Pagan Amum, emphasized that the proposed AUHIP map places all other disputed areas north of the temporary administrative borderline, regardless of whether South Sudan, at present, effectively controls those areas on the ground, as is the case in large portions of the disputed territory around Hafrat el Nahas. In an attempt to resolve this impasse, Juba again proposed a compromise, suggesting that the parties agree that each of the disputed areas be demilitarized for the purposes of operationalizing the SDBZ and, by extension, the JBVMM. Khartoum has yet to agree to this proposal.
Notably, over the course of this past week, the two sides engaged in bilateral, closed-door talks outside the facilitation of the AUHIP. According to Amum, these talks were designed to facilitate a discussion between the parties on how they could strategically engage to resolve, in a “comprehensive way,” all outstanding issues, inclusive not just of security-related matters, but also financial and oil issues, citizenship, the final status of the Abyei area, and the definition and demarcation of the border.
Sudanese Minister of Defense, Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, described the discussions with his Southern counterparts as “positive” and said that his delegation must now revert back to the leadership in Khartoum to gain further guidance on the “core issues.” Members of South Sudan’s delegation likewise emphasized the positive nature of the discussions and expressed hope that the two sides may soon initiate a dual-tracked process, whereby they continue security-related discussions within the JPSM while also reinitiating negotiations, at the Lead Negotiation Panel level, on the remaining outstanding issues. The goal of this dual-tracked approach, according to Amum, would be to conclude a holistic agreement on all outstanding issues by the August 2 deadline established by the African Union Peace and Security Council and reinforced by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2046.
Given the short amount of time remaining ahead of the August 2 deadline, coupled with Khartoum’s continued refusal to accept the AUHIP’s proposed map or Juba’s compromised approach, South Sudan formerly lodged its concern with the AUHIP that negotiations on the remaining outstanding issues, outside of security-related matters, have yet to be scheduled. The AUHIP has made assurances that it will soon convene the Lead Negotiation Panel to discuss these issues.
It remains to be seen whether the parties will uphold their commitment to return to Addis Ababa in one week’s time. Protests in Khartoum and rumors of a ministerial shake-up within the ranks of the Sudanese government may distract Sudan in the coming days and weeks, or provide a convenient excuse to forgo further talks. That said, as today nears an end in Addis Ababa, the sentiments of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and members of the international community concerning this last round of negotiations, and the anticipated resumption of talks on July 5, is overwhelmingly positive.
Photo: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit in Juba on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (AP/Pete Muller)