Monday, 7 March 2011

North and South Sudan agree to cooperate on debt relief and border issues

SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum
South Sudan will help the north get relief on its $38 billion in debt, as long as the north 'cooperates' on border and other issues in the countdown to the south's independence in July, a southern official said.

At the end of a week-long meeting with northern leaders, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum, said "We are ready to join the north in joint efforts for debt relief,” according to Reuters.

"But our participation is conditional to the cooperation of the north in all the other areas including Abyei, as well as also assuming the redemption of the Sudanese currency as we change the currency."

Representatives from both sides met in the Ethiopian resort town of Debre Zeit, for meetings mediated by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan (AUHIP), led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

While little concrete was accomplished, both sides agreed to send a joint team to the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to campaign for debt relief.

The question of what will happen to Sudan's debt when it becomes two countries has been one of the most pressing issues in the run-up to the south's independence. The SPLM has said previously that they will not share the country's foreign debt, saying that it was money borrowed to finance the northern army's fight against the south in the civil war.

Reuters reports that a note by the IMF said much of Sudan's debt dates back to the 1960s, when it borrowed on poor terms to finance large industrial projects. Nearly 90 per cent of Sudan's debt is owed to bilateral and commercial creditors, with their own requirements, and would take at least three years to clear, according to a paper by the Center for Global Development.

At the week-long meetings, the two sides also discussed the future of the oil sector and the two state-owned oil companies, Sudapet and Nilepet. Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which brought the two-decade long civil war to an end, the north and the south share the revenues from southern oil 50-50.

Most of Sudan's oil reserves are in the South, but the pipelines and refineries are in the north. Regardless of what new deal is negotiated, the north is almost certain to get fewer revenues from the south after its independence.

The two sides discussed a range of other issues, including border demarcation, ownership over the border region of Abyei, currency issues, and Nile water ownership.

Talks will resume in Sudan before the two sides return to Ethiopia on 5th April, for another round of negotiations, according to the AUHIP.

Meanwhile, violence has continued to take place in Abyei, according to the Satellite Sentinel Project, a group backed by George Clooney and Google. The group uses satellite images to track violence along the border area in the wake of January's independence referendum. New images show that some 300 buildings were burned in a village near Abyei on Saturday 5th March.

Abyei has seen a wave of attacks in recent days that have killed more than 100 people and displaces tens of thousands.

"Village burning has caused tens of thousands to be displaced, unknown numbers of civilian casualties, and the deliberate destruction of at least three communities," said Clooney.

The latest images show an attack on Saturday, 5th March, on the village of Tajalei. Charles Abyei, speaker of the parliament in the Abyei area said that it was the third village attacked. After the first two villages were attacked, rumours spread that Tajalei would be next, so civilians fled.

"The place was empty and these elements of the Popular Defence Forces came and found nobody except one man who was mentally sick," said Abyei. "They killed him and they burned down the whole village."

The Popular Defence Forces that Abyei blames are a milita that was used as a proxy force by the northern Sudanese military throughout the civil war.

A round of talks over Abyei is due to begin on Monday 7th March, but officials from Abyei are not optimistic. "We are not expecting anything to come out of the talks," the Canadian Press quoted Charles Abyei as saying.

"If Khartoum was serious they would not have supplied the whole areas of northern Abyei with arms. They have the intention of occupying the whole area of Abyei to try to control it."

Sources: Sudan Tribune, The Canadian Press, Reuters Africa, Satellite Sentinel Project

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

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