, KHARTOUM, Nov 15 – North and south Sudan have agreed to settle key issues such as border demarcation and trade barriers ahead of a January referendum on southern independence, the African Union said on Monday.
Negotiations "concluded successfully" between the ruling National Congress Party of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement said an AU statement.
The announcement came as voter registration for the January 9 referendum kicked off on Monday across the country and abroad, launching a process which could lead to the partition of Africa\’s largest nation.
The framework pact was agreed in talks mediated by an African Union panel chaired by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, which concluded at the weekend.
Under the deal, the two sides "committed themselves to the immediate demarcation of the north-south border" and to lift barriers on trade and the movement of people, regardless of the vote\’s outcome.
"The parties have committed themselves to maintaining a \’soft border’, which will permit unhindered economic and social activity and interaction, which will be essential for economic prosperity and harmony between the north and the south," said the AU statement.
"Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the parties undertook that neither would take any action, or support any group, that would undermine the security of the other.
"Instead, the north and the south would continue to cooperate and share information that would enhance their capacity to deal with internal and external threats as well as trans-border crime."
Registration offices will remain open until December 1 for the referendum, which is being held as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended a 22-year civil war in Sudan.
A second referendum is due the same day in the oil-rich Abyei region, with voters there choosing to stay with the north or go with the south.
Registration is scheduled to take place at nearly 3,000 sites across the north and south of Sudan, as well as in eight other countries including Egypt, Kenya, Britain and the United States.