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Relations between Sudan and South Sudan

Volume 551: debated on Wednesday 17 October 2012

I would like to update the House on developments in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, and what action the UK took to support the negotiations between the two countries that led to the signing of nine agreements in Addis Ababa on 27 September.

The African Union has been facilitating discussion of a number of important issues that were unresolved at the date of South Sudan’s secession in July 2011. A breakdown in talks at the start of this year was followed by shutdown of oil production in South Sudan and an increase in tensions and military actions by both countries across their shared border. This put a great strain on the already struggling economies of both countries.

In response to the worsening situation, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union set out a road map for resumed talks towards a comprehensive agreement. This agreement was endorsed by the UN Security Council in its resolution 2046. Five months of intensive dialogue within the framework of the road map, and UNSCR 2046, led to a four-day presidential summit between the two countries in late September, and the signing of an overarching presidential agreement on co-operation, and eight detailed agreements between the two countries on 27 September.

Negotiations have been facilitated throughout by the African Union high-level implementation panel led by former President Thabo Mbeki. The UK has provided funding for the work of the panel and for the negotiating teams. We have seconded staff to offer expert advice on security and other issues, and deployed diplomatic support to implementation of the road map. The UK special representative for Sudan and South Sudan and other officials have been involved at key stages of the negotiations.

The agreements signed in Addis Ababa are a significant step forward. In particular, they open the way for the establishment of a safe demilitarized border zone and deployment of a joint border verification and monitoring mechanism with international involvement, as a means of avoiding military confrontation at the border and attempting to prevent cross-border assistance to rebel groups in either country. The agreements also allow significant improvements in practical co-operation, including on cross-border trade, the rights of citizens, and on the payments for transit of oil. These measures should help alleviate the economic difficulties both countries have faced in recent months.

There are, however, still significant elements of a comprehensive agreement that are outstanding. We regret that no agreement was reached on the final status of Abyei, despite President Mbeki’s presentation of a comprehensive proposal on the subject, and final demarcation of the international border remains subject to Sudan and South Sudan settling a number of disputes and claims. We have urged both countries to press on immediately with negotiation on these remaining issues, in the spirit of compromise that brought the latest round of talks to a successful conclusion.

We are deeply worried by the lack of progress in the parallel talks between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement—North (SPLM-N) to end the conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, which also form part of the African Union’s road map and UN Security Council resolution 2046. Both sides appear to be set on a military solution that is having a serious humanitarian impact on civilians in both states. The indiscriminate military tactics employed by the Sudanese armed forces are a cause of particular concern. As of the end of September, the UN Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 212,000 refugees had fled to neighbouring countries as a result of the fighting and humanitarian situation.

Both parties in the conflict agreed a proposal put forward by the African Union, the United Nations and the League of Arab States for full independent humanitarian access. However, no substantive progress has been made implementing these agreements since they were signed. We continue to press the Government of Sudan in particular to allow impartial delivery of aid to areas held by the SPLM-N.

Ultimately a permanent cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile must be agreed, and a political process established to address the causes of the conflict. Wider national reform will be necessary to address these conflicts and others in Sudan’s periphery as well as the aspirations of all Sudanese people. The UK will continue to press the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-N to recognise that there is no military solution to their disputes, and that they must agree a cessation of hostilities and enter into negotiations. We will work closely with the African Union, the Arab League, President Mbeki’s high-level implementation panel and through the UN Security Council to this end.