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Sudan, S.Sudan Leaders Edge Closer to Border Deal

Source: Reuters 9/26/2012, Location: Africa

Sudan and South Sudan's leaders are close to sealing a border security deal that could revive oil production, sources close to the talks said, after days of disagreement at a presidential summit in Addis Ababa. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir have been meeting in Addis Ababa since Sunday to iron out an accord after their armies came close to all-out war along a disputed frontier in April. "It is being finalized now," a diplomat familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.

Neither side would officially confirm an agreement was close but delegation sources and diplomats said the African neighbours were discussing last-minute details of a deal that envisions a demilitarised buffer zone along the border. "The final result of the negotiation between the two Sudans is expected to be made public by a press conference (on Wednesday)," the Ethiopian government said in a statement. The African Union has been striving to broker the deal and the United Nations has threatened to impose sanctions if the two sides fail to cement it.

Last month they reached an interim deal to restart oil exports from the landlocked South through the north to Red Sea ports after Juba turned off wells in a row over transit fees. While the security deal will provide both nations with oil revenues needed to stave off economic collapse, the northeast African neighbours have yet to sort out several other conflicts left over from South Sudan's secession in July 2011.

They still need to agree on marking their 1,800-km (1,200-mile) long border where there are at least five disputed strips. Their fate will probably have to be decided in future talks or through lengthy international arbitration. Bashir and Kiir have been also discussing a solution to the disputed border region of Abyei but earlier plans for a referendum stumbled on discord over who should be able to vote. The two presidents are also expected to sign deals to boost cross-border trade and grant citizens of both nations residency in the other's country, ending uncertainty for South Sudanese living in Sudan.

The summit had originally been scheduled to take place in the South Sudanese capital Juba in April but was cancelled after border fighting broke out and South Sudan briefly seized an oilfield vital to Sudan's economy. Experts say resuming oil flows will take several months as the two export pipelines running through Sudan were filled with water to prevent gelling. Some oil facilities were also damaged during the fighting. South Sudan, where most people follow Christian and animist beliefs, seceded from the mainly Muslim north in July 2011 under a 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war.

There was no sign of progress in indirect talks held in Addis Ababa between Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North), which is fighting the Sudanese army in two areas bordering South Sudan. Diplomats say each country support the others' rebels.

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