South Sudan said Saturday it has agreed with the north to finalise talks on the key issues of oil, currency and borders by the end of September, after the first round of negotiations since independence.
“We have agreed that by September 30 we will reach a final agreement that will be the basis of the (economic) relationship between the two states,” the south’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum has said.
The agreement would cover the oil sector and the currency issue, Amum said after returning from Addis Ababa, where the African Union-mediated talks resumed this week following their suspension prior to southern independence on July 9.
The negotiations made further progress later on Saturday, with the two sides inking an accord to send 300 Ethiopian troops to monitor the border separating the two countries, which is approximately 2,000 kilometres in length and is disputed in several places.
The first deployment will be sent to assess the security needs in the region next week and will be overseen by a 16-person border patrol panel with representatives from both Sudan and South Sudan.
The troop deployment deal also sets a date for the two parties to meet on August 17 to try to finalise the demarcation of their volatile common border.
The sensitive issues of currency and oil had prompted Amum, who is the south’s minister of peace and secretary general of its ruling party, the SPLM, to warn on Monday of an “economic war” with the north.
He accused Sudan of imposing oil transit fees that amounted to “daylight robbery.”
Around 75 percent of Sudan’s total crude production of 470,000 barrels per day is pumped from the south.
Khartoum’s cash-strapped government is desperate to offset the loss of southern oil revenues, which represented some 36 percent of its income prior to partition.
The north approved a law last week imposing fees on the landlocked south’s use of northern oil infrastructure.
But on Saturday, Amum said Khartoum had agreed to drop its “discriminatory charges” and accept pipeline transit fees “according to international standards.”
The negotiating teams in the Ethiopian capital also discussed how the south and the international community would help Khartoum to recover its losses, which Amum said were about $340 million per month depending on oil prices.
The two sides have launched new currencies in the past two weeks, and there have been widespread fears in Juba that Khartoum will refuse to buy back the estimated two billion old Sudanese pounds in circulation in the south — and even flood the country with the old currency before it is withdrawn.
But Amum said Saturday that the central banks from north and south had agreed to form a joint committee to replace the old Sudanese pound “in a transparent manner,” to build confidence in the new currencies.
Meanwhile, a political solution to the bitterly disputed Abyei border region, the most contentious of the outstanding issues between north and south, appears no closer to being resolved, despite the first deployment of the 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers last week.