JUBA — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is scheduled to visit South Sudan next week for talks with President Salva Kiir that are expected to focus on the delayed Abyei referendum, officials said Thursday.
"We are having dialogue at the highest level...on resolving issues of the border, issues of Abyei, the issues which are related to the movement of citizens, the four freedoms, opening of borders," South Sudan Foreign Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.
The four freedoms Marial referred to are freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose of property.
The status of the 10,000-square-kilometer area of Abyei has been in dispute since the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than 20 years of civil war in the once-unified Sudan. Abyei was supposed to decide its status in a referendum originally scheduled for January 2011, the same time southerners voted on independence.
Prized for its fertile land and oil reserves, Abyei is claimed by the north and south, and is currently under United Nations' administration.
Khartoum has repeatedly said it will not allow a proposed referendum for Abyei to go ahead, citing the fact that Misseriya nomads -- Sudanese citizens who pass through the disputed territory on their way to watering and grazing grounds for their cattle -- would not be eligible to vote. South Sudan backs the vote.
Experts have said that Khartoum is worried about losing access to yet another oil-producing region after South Sudan won control of most of the once unified country's oil resources when it split from the north in 2011.
Abyei community leaders have said that, regardless of how the vote goes, a final decision will allow for greater trade between South Sudan and Sudan, and finally give residents political representation.
A South Sudan Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said Bashir would arrive in South Sudan on Tuesday.
The visit will be the Sudanese leader's second to South Sudan since the country became independent in July 2011.