South Sudan’s lead negotiator with Sudan over post-independence issues and resolving the current conflict indicated Tuesday that he hopes East African countries can play a larger role in talks between Juba and Khartoum.
Pagan Amum told an event at Chatham House in London that South Sudan’s “primary membership” was of East African regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and then continental bloc the African Union, which has been mediating between the two sides.
Pagan who is also the Secretary General of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) said that there was an “important role to be played by our region” in resolving the un-demarcated border, disputed territories, oil fees, citizenship, debt and other issues.
Sudan and South Sudan are both members of the seven member regional group, which mediated the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of civil war between Khartoum and the SPLM.
South Sudan joined the body after its independence last year joining Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
However, the regional organisation has been marginalised in the talks over the implementation of the peace agreement and the outstanding issues. The AU Peace and Security Council became much more involved after 2005 attempting to positin itself as lead-institution in resolving conflict and maintaining peace on the continent.
Amum’s comment, that he would like to see IGAD “playing a more active role” in the negotiations, comes after severe criticism of the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) by some South Sudanese officials in recent weeks.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, chairman of the AU mechanism, has also come under criticism for his role at the negotiations, which had been taking place on and off in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa until conflict broke out over the disputed oil-rich area of Heglig in April.
On 2 April, South Sudan’s information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters in Nairobi that his government was unhappy with the AU report to the UN Security Council about the recent border clashes. Some South Sudanese officials have gone further and accused Mbeki of being closely linked to Khartoum.
However, Amum said that he was happy with the road map laid out by the African Union Peace and Security Panel (PSP) calling on the two sides to resume talks and resolve key issues within three months.
Amum reaffirmed the readiness of his country to return to the negotiating table but was waiting for Sudan to do the same. South Sudan already informed The African Union of its acceptance to resume talks with Sudan.
Khartoum announced Monday its formal acceptance of the AU road map but accused Juba of occupying recently a number of disputed locations on the border between the two countries.
Sudan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom said Tuesday that South Sudanese forces were currently occupying nine areas he claimed were northern Sudanese along their 1,800 kilometre un-demarcated border.
Sudan has also said the talks should start with the security file including the presence of Sudanese rebels in South Sudan.
The African Union plan for peace, which gives the two countries three months to reach peaceful settlement over the disputed issues, is being debated at the UN Security Council. The US drafted a resolution to endorse the African road map under Article 41 of Chapter 7 which would allow the world body to impose economic sanctions if the three month deadline is not met.
But China and Russia are seemingly reluctant to allow the sanctions threat to be included in the draft resolution, also but it appears unlikely that they will veto it should the vote proceed as planned on Wednesday.
Speaking about the Chinese role, in the resolution of the conflict between the two countries, the chief negotiator regretted that Beijing is being very “cautious”. “They definitely need to be more proactive, especially in relation to Sudan and South Sudan,” he further said.
Until last year China has been very close to Khartoum, often protecting it at the Security Council regarding Darfur, due to its interests in Sudan’s oil and other resources.
However, when South Sudan became independent Khartoum lost control of 75% of oil production.
A recent report from the International Crisis Group described how Beijing was having to find a balance between its old friends in Sudan and its new friends in the South.
Last week a South Sudanese lawyer and commentator, Macor Agok told South Sudan TV that China now has important interests in the new nation stressing that they expect the international community to exercise more pressures on Khartoum to stop the bombardment on his country.
Amum said they want to see China playing a more active role and to catch up its foreign policy with its international position, as they “have huge investments abroad”.
“By trying to move away from Khartoum so as to get closer to South Sudan and trying not to get too close to South Sudan so as not to cause displeasure to Khartoum … neither Khartoum nor Juba will be happy with China,” he said.
Speaking at a later event at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Amum said that China had to “reconcile its two interests” but thought that Juba’s relations with China had a “bright future”.
The recent visit of South Sudan President Salva Kiir to Beijing secured an $8 billion loan to build hydroelectric damns, roads, hospitals five universities as well as other development programmes, Amum said.
It was expected that South Sudan would use Kiir’s visit would secure China’s involvement in an oil pipeline to East Africa. Since February Juba stopped pumping its oil through Khartoum over an oil fee dispute, which saw Khartoum confiscate southern crude.
Amum told the audience at ODI both South Sudan and China would prefer to use Sudan’s infrastructure to export Juba’s oil “but it is not [good] business” considering the fees demanded by Khartoum.
China was considering joining Japan in developing the pipeline and other infrastructure that would negate landlocked South Sudan’s reliance good relations with Khartoum to export its oil, which – until the shutdown – accounted for 98% of the governments budget.