This week, the countries of Sudan and South Sudan signed their first accord since South Sudan gained independence in July. The two sides, in a deal mediated by officials from the African Union, agreed to open ten border crossings between the two countries. They will consult with the joint technical committee responsible for border demarcation before meeting again next month to determine the final locations of the crossings. Six soldiers from each country and six neutral soldiers from Ethiopia will guard the border crossings.
According to the BBC’s James Copnall, “the real significance of the deal is perhaps that it shows Sudan and South Sudan want to show they can work together.” The two countries appeared optimistic that the deal could improve the relationship between the two countries. After the signing of the agreement, Sudan’s Defense Minister, Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein, said, “today we agreed to open 10 border crossings, to facilitate the movement of people and communication between the people of the two countries,” and South Sudan’s Defense Minister, John Kong, described the meeting as “successful.”
Despite the agreement, the demarcation and the security of the border between the two countries remains a major issue. Three separate conflicts have occurred in the border region in the last few months. Fighting persists in the Sudanese border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile between the Sudanese army and ex-rebels with ties to South Sudan. Three hundred UN-sanctioned Ethiopian troops remain at the border to monitor a demilitarized zone that is six miles wide on both sides of the border.
The relationship between the two countries remains tense, as both sides have declared the other has violated the separation agreement. Sudan accused South Sudan of supporting rebels fighting in border states, which South Sudan denies. However, Sudan appears to be retreating from that position after Defense Minister Hussein stated, “there are no allegations against the government of South Sudan and there are no differences between us on Blue Nile and South Kordofan.” On the other hand, South Sudan has recently accused Sudan of attempting to damage its economy with a cargo embargo, causing runaway inflation within the newly formed country. Sudan proffers that it implemented the embargo to protect its own economy before South Sudan’s independence.
Although the agreement to open the border shows the two countries are willing to work together, there is still a long way to go before the conflict between the two countries is settled. The border remains disputed, without demarcation, a process that will inevitably increase tensions, as both sides assert claim jurisdiction over Abyei. The two sides have also failed to form an agreement on oil. However, any agreement and cooperation between the two countries represents a positive step towards settling the conflict and achieving peace in the region.