The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan are set to meet in Ethiopian capital to discuss how to improve border security and resume cross-border oil flows, both governments have said.
The African Union will host the summit on Friday between Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir in Addis Ababa, spokesmen for both governments said on Tuesday.
Both countries have said they wanted to set up a demilitarised border zone, signalling possible concessions ahead of the summit which will test whether they can mend ties and restore vital oil flows.
South and North signed a landmark deal in September in Addis Ababa, which was centred on nine key areas, including a demilitarised buffer zone and oil production.
They agreed to resume oil exports from the landlocked South through Sudan, months after Juba had shut down its oil production after failing to agree with the North on an export fee, one of several conflicts left over from South Sudan’s secession in 2011.
However, both the African neighbours still have to move back their army 10km from the border to set up a buffer zone, a condition to restart oil flows.
They also accuse each other of supporting rebels on the other’s territory and fought a limited war in April last year after South Sudan’s army captured oil-rich town of Heglig – which is internationally recognised as part of Sudan.
In a speech on New Year’s Eve, Kiir said the new republic was willing to withdraw its troops from the 1,800km long border, much of which is disputed.
South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told Reuters the withdrawal would have to be coordinated between the two countries. He did not elaborate.
Bashir did not mention Kiir’s comments at a rally on Tuesday but said Sudan wanted to implement the September deals, which would include the troop pullback, and open the border for trade.
“We are ready for good neighbourly relations and co-operation and we want to implement all agreements signed in Addis Ababa,” Bashir said.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan under a 2005 peace deal which ended decades of civil war but both countries have yet to decide on ownership of several disputed border regions, including Abyei – a fertile grazing land.
South Sudan had originally hoped to resume oil exports by January but has postponed turning on wells until the buffer zone is in place. Oil is the lifeline for both economies.