(AFP) – Jul 7, 2012
ADDIS ABABA — Sudan and South Sudan pledged to cease hostilities along their disputed oil-rich border Saturday but stopped short of actually signing an agreement, officials said.
The verbal agreement came as the latest round of talks closed in the Ethiopian capital ahead of celebrations Monday to mark one year of independence for South Sudan.
"We have agreed ... to the unequivocal commitment of the two parties to never solicit force to settle their disputes and differences and to commit themselves to the cessation of hostilities," Sudanese Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein told reporters.
The two sides also agreed "to strengthen (and) enhance the political will which is happily once more existing between the two countries," Hussein said.
The countries resumed African Union-led peace talks here Thursday after negotiations adjourned last week without a deal.
The talks are expected to continue on Wednesday following the independence celebrations.
The two sides reached no agreement on a demilitarised buffer zone along the border in the latest round of talks, but Hussein insisted the "normalisation" of relations was the current priority for both countries.
"The demarcation of the (safe border zone) is not in itself an objective. What we are trying to do to is normalise relations between the two countries," he said.
South Sudan's chief negotiator, Pagan Amum, said he was pleased with the "new spirit" at the latest round of talks and said his country was committed to improving relations with Khartoum.
"We are going to discuss all issues, security, economic, that includes trade and oil ... and we have committed ourselves to resolving the border dispute," Amum said.
Amum said the disputed Abyei region would also be addressed and that both sides agreed on creating an open border to promote bilateral trade.
Chief mediator Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, praised the two sides for their renewed commitment to peace.
"We are convinced ... the approach that the parties have taken indeed creates the basis for a speedier resolution of these outstanding questions," he said.
This is the second time Khartoum and Juba have agreed on a cessation of hostilities since March, when they signed a non-aggression pact. The deal was swiftly violated when fighting broke out in oil-rich Heglig, bringing the two two rivals back to the brink of all-out war.
The United Nations passed a resolution in May giving the two countries three months to resolve disputes on sharing oil revenue and demarcating the border.
No concrete deals have been forged since talks resumed in May, but Hussein said they remained committed to meeting the August 2 deadline.
"We believe that we have addressed several issues contained in the resolution, and we are equally resolved to discuss the remaining issues while respecting fully the deadline," he said.
Neither side could confirm whether their leaders will meet at next week's African Union summit here, nor could they say whether Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will attend Monday's independence celebrations in Juba, although Amum said Bashir had been invited.
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