JUBA, South Sudan — In a surprising move of cooperation, South Sudan and Sudan initialed agreements on citizenship and border demarcation in the latest round of talks in Addis Ababa, in the midst of heightened tensions and rhetoric between the two countries.
The seeming pivot away from the brink by both sides was reflected in rhetoric back in Juba. South Sudan’s lead negotiator Pagan Amum sounded an optimistic note on arrival from Addis on Wednesday, saying that the initialling of the “two very important agreements” signalled “huge progress in the negotiations.”
Amum also emphasized that the two parties had committed to a new spirit of cooperation in approaching the negotiations, in which both sides would cease unilateral actions and demonstrate willingness to compromise. The talks, ongoing for over a year and a half, have produced little progress to date.
The direct involvement of the presidents of both countries will also be a facet of the new approach in the talks, according to Amum. A bilateral summit between the two heads of states will reportedly take place in Juba in the near future, at which time President Kiir and President Bashir are slated to sign the two agreements.
“The initialled agreements were concluded in the context of a spirit of cooperation and partnership which was discussed and agreed by the parties,” the African Union panel facilitating the talks said in a statement issued Tuesday evening. “The parties have renewed their commitment to continue negotiations in good faith and to arrive at agreements which will ensure the economic, political and security viability of both states.”
Under the nationality agreement, South Sudanese and Sudanese citizens will be granted the freedom to reside, move, acquire and dispose of property, and undertake economic activities in the other state. It remains unclear how, if at all, the agreement will affect the April 8 deadline for ethnic southerners currently residing in the North to “return” to South Sudan to obtain relevant documents necessary, according to Khartoum, for residence in Sudan.
The border agreement would commit the two sides to begin demarcating the parts of the North-South border that Juba and Khartoum agree on within 60 days, but asks that the demarcation process begin in two weeks. According to the text, demarcation should be completed within three months of the start date. It remains to be seen whether these initialed agreements, even when signed by the two heads of states, will actually be implemented or fall prey to the long history of non-implementation of agreements between Sudan and South Sudan.
Photo: South Sudan soldiers near a disputed part of the North-South border (Enough / Laura Heaton)