‘Warm welcome’ seen for Sudan’s Bashir in South

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses a new session of Parliament, on April 1, 2013, in the capital Khartoum.  By Ashraf Shazly (AFP/File)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses a new session of Parliament, on April 1, 2013, in the capital Khartoum. By Ashraf Shazly (AFP/File)

KHARTOUM (AFP) – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir can expect a “warm welcome” when he arrives in South Sudan on Friday for talks with his counterpart Salva Kiir, official media said as tensions ease after last year’s border clashes.

Bashir will be making his first journey over the disputed frontier since he attended South Sudan’s independence celebrations on July 9, 2011, following a near-unanimous referendum vote for separation after a 22-year civil war.

Officials from both countries on Tuesday confirmed Bashir’s trip to South Sudan but gave no details.

“President Bashir will discuss in his visit with Salva Kiir the relations between the two countries and how to develop and continue these relations for the benefit of both nations,” the official SUNA news agency quoted Mutrif Siddiq, Khartoum’s ambassador to the Southern capital Juba, as saying.

“The visit of President Bashir will receive a warm welcome in Juba from the government and the people of South Sudan,” Siddiq said.

Independence left key issues unresolved between the impoverished neighbours, including how much the South should pay for shipping its oil through Sudanese pipelines for export.

South Sudan stopped all of its crude production early last year, cutting off most of its revenue after accusing Khartoum of theft.

The two nations then battled on their undemarcated border, prompting Sudan to cancel an April 2012 summit which had been planned between the two presidents.

Fighting raised fears of wider war, and intermittent clashes continued in subsequent months.

But at talks in Addis Ababa in March, Sudan and South Sudan finally settled on detailed timetables to improve relations by resuming the oil flows and implementing eight other key pacts including one for a demilitarised border buffer zone.

The deals had remained dormant after signing in September as Khartoum pushed for guarantees that South Sudan would no longer back rebels fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Since timetables were agreed, official delegations from the two countries have held a series of meetings to begin implementing the pacts.

Kiir telephoned Bashir after the Addis timetables were reached, inviting him for a visit. Bashir agreed but no date had been confirmed until Tuesday.

Last Saturday, South Sudan held a ceremony to restart oil production, which official Sudanese media said would be shipped again from Port Sudan in the north by the end of May.

Following these developments, Bashir’s visit occurs “in a positive environment”, Siddiq said.