Sudan, South Sudan agree once again to set up buffer zone

Sat Jan 5, 2013 4:10pm EST
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By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan agreed on Saturday to set up a demilitarized zone along their disputed border, a condition for restarting oil exports, an African Union mediator said on Saturday, without giving a time frame.

Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudan's Salva Kiir had agreed in September to withdraw their armies from the border area, a move both say is necessary to allow oil to flow again from landlocked South Sudan through Sudan.

After weeks of deadly clashes early last year the two came close to all-out war but agreed a ceasefire in April. However, South Sudan says Sudan has bombed its side of the border several times since then and neither has withdrawn its army since the deal was struck in September.

They also accuse each other of supporting rebels on each other's side of the border, accusations denied by both, and part of Sudanese side is controlled by Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) rebels.

The AU called this week's summit, two days of talks in Ethiopia, to defuse tensions after months of often unproductive talks between two countries which remain deeply mistrustful of each other, a legacy of one of Africa's longest civil wars.

"They've ... agreed that actions should be taken as soon as possible to implement all the existing agreements unconditionally," AU mediator Thabo Mbeki said after the summit which Bashir and Kiir left without making statements.

"The presidents have also agreed that ... the necessary decisions are taken to create the safe demilitarized border zone," Mbeki told reporters. The AU would present a time frame next week, he said.

The AU, backed by Western powers, had threatened both with sanctions should they miss a September deadline to resolve the dispute and has since then granted more time to negotiate.   Continued...

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attends a meeting with leaders from South Sudan at the National Palace in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa January 5, 2013. The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan met late on Friday to try to defuse hostility that has simmered since the south broke away in 2011 and restart cross-border oil flows to rescue their crumbling economies. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri