NAIROBI -- The head of the African Union panel mediating talks between Sudan and South Sudan says he expects the two countries to agree on a date to resume negotiations this week.
Speaking to reporters in Juba Monday, former South African President Thabo Mbeki said there is an urgent need to settle outstanding issues that have brought the two sides to the brink of war.
Following talks with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and other officials, Mbeki said he believes the two Sudans will soon come together to move forward with AU-mediated negotiations.
“We've agreed about the need for that meeting urgently," he said. "I'm quite sure that within this week we will agree on a date."
Mbeki arrived in Juba on Sunday from Khartoum, where he had met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. He is expected to return to Khartoum on Tuesday.
His goal is to get the two sides to resume talks on a number of outstanding issues left unresolved after South Sudan declared independence from the north last year.
The most recent round of negotiations between the two countries fell apart in April when fighting erupted along their disputed border.
South Sudanese officials said they are ready to re-engage in talks, but are skeptical of the AU process. Juba Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the AU has been too lenient with Khartoum.
"We are concerned because Khartoum is still bombing our areas in Western Bahr al-Ghazal [state], still overflying our area, violating our airspace in Unity State [and] even overflying Juba and all the rest," he said. "And it is the duty of the AU and the Security Council to warn Sudan on this."
A U.N. Security Council resolution passed earlier this month called on both sides to cease hostilities and resume talks or else face sanctions.
South Sudan has repeatedly called on the U.N. to sanction Sudan for conducting air raids. Sudan denies carrying out attacks in southern territory.
Initial deadline unmet
The two countries have already missed the initial deadline set by the U.N. to resume negotiations.
The AU-mediated talks aim to settle the outstanding issues between the two countries including the final demarcation of the border, the status of Abyei and a deal on oil.
When South Sudan became independent last year, it took control of two-thirds of Sudanese oil fields. However, all of the pipelines and the port are in the north.
Juba shut off its oil production in January, following a dispute about transit fees charged by Khartoum.
Sudanese President Bashir has said Khartoum will not allow South Sudan to export its oil through the north until all the border disputes are settled.