NAIROBI, Kenya – Arch-foe neighbors Sudan and South Sudan signed 10 “cooperation” agreements on Thursday meant to demilitarize the tense border, restart oil production and open a new page after decades of war and last year’s contentious split into two separate nations.
Yet several of the hottest disputes were put off for later talks, signaling that one of the world’s most intractable conflicts still could flare up.
The leaders of the two nations, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, had been meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, since Sunday, trying to stave off international wrath and the threat of sanctions after blowing a United Nations deadline to reach a comprehensive end to their long-running, and sometimes bloody, dispute.
The Thursday deal paves the way for South Sudan to restart its oil production, which must be pumped north through Sudanese pipelines for export. Amid an impasse over how much South Sudan was to pay in transit fees, Sudan began confiscating South Sudan’s oil, leading South Sudan to shut down its oil industry in January.
Last year, South Sudan exercised the right embedded in a U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal to secede and become an independent nation after decades of civil war between the two sides.
“This is an extraordinarily important event. These are issues that have lingered since the independence of South Sudan,” said Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, in a phone interview.
The oil shutdown had pushed both sides toward economic collapse, but South Sudan in particular was running out of money.
The new deal activates a demilitarized zone of 6.2 miles on both sides of the border, monitored with the assistance of U.N. peacekeepers and overseen by joint committees to resolve disputes. The deal was mediated by the African Union.
The 10 agreements also included deals on re-opening cross-border trade, free movement across the countries and a host of other economic and financial issues.
But the deal did not include a resolution to the disputed border district of Abyei, which was promised a referendum to decide which country to join.