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Sudan, South Sudan Sign Treaty of Non-Aggression

Sudan and South Sudan have signed a security deal aimed at easing tensions that have prompted the presidents of both countries to speak of the prospect of war. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports the signing came as the two neighbors sat down for a week of negotiations on oil revenues and a host of other contentious issues.

In a hastily arranged late night ceremony, senior intelligence officials from Sudan and South Sudan signed Friday what African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki called a "Non-Aggression Pact."

"It provides for various principles which would guide relations between the two countries, in which the two countries commit themselves to non-aggression and cooperation," he said.

The agreement came at the end of the first day of a week-long series of AU-mediated talks on issues that have brought tensions between the neighbors to the boiling point.

The key dispute is over sharing oil revenues. Oil is the lifeline of both countries' economies.

Landlocked South Sudan took three-quarters of the oil when it became independent last July, but the oil moves by pipeline through Sudan, which also controls the export facilities needed to get the product to market.

Tensions soared in December when Sudan seized tankers filled with South Sudanese crude, and began selling oil from the pipeline to recoup what it said were fees owed by the south.

The South Sudanese responded by shutting down the pipeline. Experts estimate the closure is costing the south $650 million a month, or 97 percent of the country's total income. But the south's chief negotiator called the shutdown necessary to stop Sudan from stealing the oil.

As tensions rose, both countries were reported massing large armies along the border.

AU mediator Mbeki, the former South African president, said the non-aggression pact will help to ease tensions by creating a bilateral mechanism for addressing cross border flareups before they erupt into war.

"When this matter arose at the conclusion of the negotiations, this question arose, that both sides suspect the other side might be allowing hostile action to take place, what do we do? And the agreement is this memorandum of understanding on non-aggression and cooperation is serious," he said.

Mr. Mbeki told VOA the mechanism for resolving disputes will included the foreign, defense and interior ministers of both countries.

"It's the responsibility of both sides to act now to ensure nothing happens that might be in violation of this agreement. So they will act immediately to make sure that indeed they honor this understanding on non-aggression, so nothing would take place from each others territory that is hostile to the other," he said.

Diplomats say the non-aggression pact is the result of intense international pressure. Representatives of China, the biggest importer of Sudanese oil, met negotiators from both sides Friday.

U.S. and European envoys have also been closely monitoring the talks. U.S. President Barack Obama's special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, is due to arrive in Addis Ababa for the negotiations on sharing oil revenues, which are due to begin Tuesday.