Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir agreed on "new intentions" to execute what they agreed upon more than three months ago. This was described as a plan to "escape forward," avoiding international pressure and accusations of not dealing seriously with outstanding issues between the two countries. However, at the Addis Ababa summit held late this week, the two presidents avoided settling contentious and fundamental issues which, once again, failed to find their way to solution.
The meeting between Bashir and Salva Kiir in the Ethiopian capital ended with the confirmation of their previous agreement, which was also made in Addis Ababa, on Sept. 27. But the new meeting did not achieve any breakthroughs in the contentious issues that have plagued the two sides since the secession of the south more than a year ago. The points binding the two parties were limited to routine matters which do not affect the essence of their differences.
The two presidents agreed on demarcation lines accounting for 80% of their border, stretching over more than 2,100 kilometers. This was agreed upon by the negotiators of the two parties around three years ago, but the decision had not yet been applied. The two presidents also agreed to form a committee of experts tasked with formulating non-binding proposals regarding disputed areas, similar to the agreement reached between them in Addis Ababa three months ago.
The meeting between Bashir and Salva Kiir focused on passing practical steps to implement the Addis Ababa agreement, but they did not settle this matter and left the African mediator Thabo Mbeki to put forward a timetable to be presented during a meeting on the sidelines of an African summit in the Ethiopian capital this month, meaning that it will be subject to new talks.
Experts closely following the meeting held between the South Sudan and Sudan leadership believe that setting a timetable for the implementation of the agreements before resolving points of contention is like putting the cart before the horse. They say that the African mediation cannot set a date for the implementation of points that have remained under discussion for months.
According to the mediation statement, Salva Kiir pledged to draft a formal letter regarding the disengagement of South Sudan's army from the rebels of the "People's Liberation Movement North" in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. However, Khartoum and Juba are still disputing the concept of "disengagement.” Sudan believes that the Southern army is responsible for disarming its former fighters in the north, whom South Sudan believes to have become citizens of another country obliged to disarm them. For the South, disengagement means cutting ties with them and stopping the provision of weapons or supplies.
The two sides reinforced their former agreement to simultaneously withdraw their forces from disputed border areas in order to pave the way for the establishment of a 10 km buffer zone on the two sides of the border and deploy joint monitoring teams headed by the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which is composed of soldiers from the Ethiopian armed forces.
Concerning Abyei, Bashir and Salva Kiir agreed on the formation of an interim administration and a local parliament in the disputed area between the two countries, an issue that has remained unresolved since November 2011. However, the dispute over those nominated to head the administration and the parliament disrupted the implementation of this step.
Sources closely following developments in South Sudan believe that the summit between Bashir and Salva Kiir failed to overcome the main issues of contention and that the mediation statement which spoke about progress in the talks is merely a cover for failure so that the mediator could grant a new opportunity in the meeting to be renewed on Jan. 13. Moreover, these sources believe that the statement seeks to avoid embarrassing Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Dislan, who brokered the meeting in his first regional role since assuming the presidency after the passing of Meles Zenawi.