A major breakthrough in border talks between Sudan and South Sudan has renewed hopes for a peaceful coexistence of the frequently warring neighbours. Both parties have reportedly reached an agreement on where the border should pass with only five areas subject to further talks.
“We agreed on the borderlines, frontier marks, and new maps will be drawn. We also agreed on the financial cost of the border demarcation program,” said Moaz Mohamed Ahmed Tengu, the Chairman of the 11th Joint Border Commission after a meeting on Tuesday.
The signing of the agreement in Khartoum, which includes a full description of the agreed parts, was witnessed by the African Union (AU) Office in Sudan, The East African reports.
Since South Sudan gained independence in 2011, the contested border has been a threat to the security of both countries with armed groups taking advantage to further their interests. The border was also designated as a threat to international peace and security.
Following heightened tensions between northern and southern Sudan over control of the area, the United Nations Interim Security Forces for Abyei (UNISFA) were sent there back in 2011 by the Security Council. A Joint Commission for the Border between the two countries was also formed in November 2016 in Addis Ababa.
Both the Ethiopian and UN peacekeeping mission has helped prevent the resumption of a full-blown border war, but it has not been able to stop violence completely as there have been occasional deadly assaults on civilians and peacekeepers.
One main area of concern is the disputed oil-rich Abyei area where more than 15 people were killed between January 1 and July 16, according to the area’s Chief Administrator, Kuol Alor Jok. In July, unknown armed men killed seven people in Abyei market, including a UN peacekeeper.
Last week, the UN Council extended the mandate of its Joint Monitoring Mechanism along the border by six weeks – from September end to November 15 – to protect civilians and humanitarian workers in the oil-rich Abyei area.
As a whole, the disputed areas are said to be habitable and conducive to farming and livestock keeping with good weather, water, and natural resources.
The breakthrough in negotiations, which comes after the ouster of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir (who experts blame for delaying a resolution to the dispute), offers hope that both parties could finally reach a compromise and adopt joint administration along the border.
Such resolution, based on cross-border resource-sharing, would allow for the greater economic cooperation and smooth bilateral relations between the two Sudanese nations, thereby preventing future escalations and maintaining peace.
According to Al-Amin Mohamed Banga, the Sudan co-chair of the joint technical committee, the agreement would benefit people, businesses, and help enhance security in the disputed areas which reportedly contain a population of over 10 million people.
Noting that there was a good chance the new deal would be implemented, political analyst Atem Simon Mabior told The East African that Juba and Khartoum should also have open borders for the movement of people and goods.
Still under contention are the Dabba al-Fukhar, Jabal al-Muqainis and Kaka areas on the border as well as the Kefi Kenji and Hofrat Al-Nehass commercial areas in South Darfur. The latter, a 13-square-kilometre region, is occupied by tribes from Darfur in western Sudan.