Sudan and South Sudan reached an agreement on oil transport fees Saturday, after more than six months of wrangling and near-war over the vital mineral, but border security issues continue to threaten the success of the deal.
African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki confirmed the agreement Saturday, giving no further details except to say "what will remain...is to then discuss the next steps as to when the oil companies should be asked to prepare for resumption of production and export."
Sudanese media reported this morning Juba agreed to pay $25.80 per barrel to have their oil refined and shipped out of ports in the north. However, other media sources are reporting the two sides came to an agreement of around $10 average per barrel.
It is also reported South Sudan will offer Khartoum $3.2 million in compensation to the north for lost oil revenues.
The agreement is a major step forward for the two nations. The south, which succeeded from the Muslim north last July, cut off the oil supply in January after talks on fees failed.
By April, the two countries almost went to war over the issue after Khartoum began seizing oil from the south in payment for what it said were unpaid fees.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in South Sudan earlier this week, hailed the agreement and praised Juba for its "leadership in taking this decision."
"The oil impasse has lasted more than six months. Now was the time to bring this impasse to a close, for the good of the people of South Sudan and their aspirations for a better future in the face of ongoing challenges," she added.
But many are wary of premature celebrations. The north made it clear Saturday no steps would be taken on the oil issue until the question of border security was resolved.
After the south's secession last year, the citizens of both nations were meant to vote in a referendum determining the sovereignty of the oil-rich region of Abyei, which lies on the border.
However, the referendum never took place and the two countries continue to wage a war of words over the area. The south accuses the north of keeping soldiers in the region in defiance of a UN mandate.
Khartoum says members of an anti-north militant party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) are secretly present in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions on the border with the south.
Nevertheless, some hope this small agreement will provide impetus for the two sides to decide on other issues. In a statement Saturday, President Barack Obama urged the two sides "to build on the momentum created by these breakthroughs to resolve remaining border and security issues."
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir are due to discuss these issues, including Abyei, in a meeting slated to take place after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
by RTT Staff Writer
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