23 October 2013, Juba – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has met his South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir, in Juba. Both dubbed the encounter “historic,” but there was little progress on intractable problems troubling bilateral relations.
“We are ready to go the extra mile to make peace with Sudan ,” South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir told his northern counterpart and former civil war foe Omar al-Bashir, who was visiting South Sudan’s capital Juba in a latest push to tackle a raft of issues left unresolved when the formerly unified nation split two years ago.
Tensions have been mounting over the war-ravaged region of Abyei, which lies between the countries. The disputed area is claimed by both sides and the African Union (AU) has been urging the two leaders to “seize the opportunity” to find a deal.
But while Kiir said Abyei was the “most critical” issue discussed, little concrete progress was announced. “The meeting with my brother Salva Kiir was fruitful. We will make sure all the outstanding issues are implemented,” Bashir said.
Their joint statement said they had agreed to expedite the establishment of a joint or independent governing body in Abyei.
The people of Abyei were meant to vote on whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan in January 2011 – on the same day Juba voted overwhelmingly to split from the north – as part of the 2005 peace deal which ended Sudan’s civil war.
That referendum has repeatedly stalled, with residents now threatening to press ahead and organize their own vote. The United Nations and the AU have warned that any such unilateral move could inflame tensions and risk destabilizing the uneasy peace between the long-time foes.
But Kiir warmly welcomed Bashir, an indicted war crimes suspect wanted by the International Criminal Court. The leaders, once bitter enemies, embraced as they met.
They also agreed to start coordinating on ways to help people and goods move across border points, and to stop supporting and harboring rebel movements in either country.
Bashiir and Kiir had met for talks in Sudan last month, while Bashir last visited South Sudan in April, his first visit since independence and which followed a furious row over the shutdown of oil exports.
But South Sudan restarted production in April and said this month it had made more than $1.3 billion (945 million euros) in oil sales in the meantime. It also said it had paid Khartoum more than $300 million for the use of its pipelines to export the oil.
DW’s correspondent in Juba Hannah McNiesh said aside from the proclamations of brotherly love, it remains to be seen whether the meeting can merge minds enough to move forward key issues standing in the way of lasting peace. “A largely undefined closed border in desperate need of demilitarization, and contested territory were left vague,” she added.