Tenuous Negotiations Ahead of South Sudan Independence

With official independence for South Sudan a mere two weeks away, many displaced southerners are looking forward to returning home.  But the relationship between the government of the north in Khartoum and the government of the south in Juba has been a tenuous balancing act ever since the referendum on independence in January.

The governments of the northern National Congress Party (NCP) and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) are currently in talks in Addis Ababa.  The purpose of the talks is for the parties to come to negotiated arrangements on a number of issues important for north-south relations after independence, particularly those related to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and including the contested status of Abyei.

The NCP has not ruled out the possibility of war between the two states, but SPLM representatives have been adamant that they are not interested in reigniting armed conflict. President Omar Al Bashir recently warned the south that attempts to create trouble for the north would have consequences, and recent aggression on the part of Sudanese Armed Forces in South Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains, and Abyei indicate that he means it and Khartoum is on the offensive.  While a negotiated agreement was recently reached on Abyei, including the provision of an Ethiopian peacekeeping force to monitor the border area, South Kordofan has come under attack by government forces.  As Mark Goldberg reports, the fighting in South Kordofan has included tactics that involve ethnic cleansing.

On June 24 the Sudan Tribune reported that the SPLM stressed it was committed to peaceful dialogue and equal partnership as the way forward and would make no concessions in the negotiations as a result of such threats from the NCP.

The north and south must also reach an agreement on the proceeds of oil sales. While the south possesses most of the country’s supply of the commodity, the north has the infrastructure needed in order to exploit it.  Al Bashir has threatened to shut the pipeline down if an oil sharing agreement is not reached by next month, as reported by the Ethiopian daily The Reporter.

The negotiations in Addis Ababa will have to be mediated delicately if peaceful agreements are to be reached on the list of issues the north and south need to cooperate on.  In this context, the invitation of President Al Bashir to the independence ceremonies in the south on July 9 by the SPLM is an interesting move.  On the surface it appears to be a sign of goodwill on the part of the south, but it theoretically means that South Sudan, as an independent country, or one of the foreign delegations present on July 9, could be justified in attempting to arrest Al Bashir under the warrant issued for him by the International Criminal Court.  It would be ironic, though not surprising, if South Sudan, as a sign of reconciliation, receives Al Bashir as a guest without moving to apprehend him, despite the crimes committed by government forces in their war with the south.