Wednesday, 1 June 2011

North and South Sudan agree to demilitarised border zone

North and South Sudan have agreed to set up a jointly patrolled demilitarised zone along their border, however both sides are already expressing scepticism on whether it will hold.

The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan, which mediated the deal, released a statement on Tuesday 31st May saying that an agreement was reached during talks on Monday in Addis Ababa to form a common zone along the 1,300 mile border.

The zone will follow internal borders from 1956, the year Sudan became independent from Britain, and will encompass six miles on either side of the border line.

Khartoum's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Media Secretary Ibrahim Ghandour downplayed the significance of the agreement, arguing that what was signed was simply one plan that could form the basis of a framework agreement.

He stressed that proposals are still being discussed.

The Southern-ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) also expressed doubt that such an agreement could be upheld.

SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer was quoted in the New York Times as saying “The question is, whether the Khartoum army and intelligence implement it? We doubt it very much.”

Disagreement over the border has proved to be one of the most problematic issues as South Sudan readies itself for independence in July.

Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north in a January referendum outlined by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which, in 2005, brought decades of civil war in Sudan to an end.

The CPA also arranged for a referendum to be held in the disputed border region of Abyei on whether its residents wanted to join the north or the south, but the vote was postponed indefinitely after disagreements over voter eligibility.

Both sides claim fertile and oil-rich Abyei, and it has been the site of numerous clashes in recent months.

On 21st May, northern forces took over Abyei, causing some 80,000 people to flee, mostly to the south.

The international community has called on Khartoum to withdraw from Abyei, however northern president Omar Al-Bashir has said he will not pull out.

On Thursday 26th May, the north bombed and destroyed the bridge across the Bahr el Arab, called the River Kiir by southerners, which forms part of the 1956 border in the Abyei area.

Northern troops have also been deployed in two other areas along the border, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, and Khartoum has demanded that all southern-allied soldiers in the areas disarm by Wednesday.

What will happen if they do not, is not yet clear.

Sources: BBC News, Guardian, New York Times, Sudan Tribune

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

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