JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - South Sudan President Salva Kiir flew to Khartoum on Wednesday for a two-day summit with his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, to talk about economic issues in the once-rebel-controlled former Unity State.
The minister in the office of the president, Mayik Ayi Deng, who oversees Kiir's activities, told reporters at Juba International Airport upon the president's departure to Khartoum Tuesday morning that Kiir was happy to accept Bashir's invitation and hoped to settle unresolved issues with Sudan this week.
"One is the resumption of oil in former Unity State; second, they are going to discuss the issues concerning the border for trade between the two countries; and, third they are going to discuss the issues concerning trade itself," Deng said.
Resuming oil production in former Unity State could significantly boost South Sudan's rapidly deteriorating economy. Ninety-eight percent of the country's economy relied on oil in previous years. Production in the former Unity State stopped when fighting broke out in late 2013. A peace deal signed in August 2015 has been violated many times over by both warring parties, and pipelines there have remained dormant.
Defense Minister Kuol Manyang, Petroleum Minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth and Information Minister Michael Makuei flew to Khartoum last week ahead of the talks to hammer out deals on many issues ahead of the summit, including how to demarcate a common border and redeploy forces away from the border zone.
Juba-based Eye Radio reported defense ministers from both Sudan and South Sudan agreed to deploy joint forces along the border and open crossing points that have been closed to traders for several years.
Deng said Kiir's visit was aimed at enforcing the 2012 cooperation agreement, which covers demarcation, oil disputes, citizenship and the final status of the disputed Abyei region but was never implemented.
During last week's visit to Juba by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Kiir's adviser on foreign affairs, Nhial Deng Nhial, called on Washington to help the two countries improve relations.
"There were some very complicated matters that arose during the negotiations that led to conclusion of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005, and the government of the United States played an instrumental role in helping break some of the deadlocks, especially the issues of Abyei," Nhial said.
Nhail said it was "in the same spirit" that Kiir hoped the U.S. would stay engaged in Sudan-South Sudan relations.
Nhial added that the United States had already invested "a lot" in terms of resolving the conflict over Abyei.