KHARTOUM, Apr 6 – A summit between the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan will go ahead despite its postponement after border clashes between the neighbours, African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki said in Khartoum on Friday.
Speaking after a two-hour meeting with President Omar al-Bashir, the AU mediator gave no new date for the summit which was originally planned for last Tuesday.
“President Bashir confirmed that the summit between him and President Salva Kiir is to take place after necessary preparation. When and where will be decided after the preparation committee finishes its work,” said Mbeki, who travelled to Khartoum after holding talks with Kiir in Juba on Thursday.
At the Juba meeting, Kiir “said the summit between him and Bashir must take place,” Mbeki told reporters.
His talks with the two leaders came after negotiators from Juba and Khartoum failed to sign an agreement on security after the latest AU-mediated talks concluded on Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital.
It was the first face-to-face meeting between the combatants since the clashes.
Mbeki denied in Addis Ababa that negotiations had reached an impasse.
South Sudan’s lead negotiator Pagan Amum accused the Khartoum delegation of walking out of the talks, saying “war mongering” prevented them from signing the agreement.
He also said South Sudan’s army downed a Sudanese fighter jet over a border area on the southern territory, but Sudan rejected the claim as well as the accusation that it refused to sign a deal.
The Khartoum delegation said it had to return home for consultations before committing to the accord.
Clashes broke out almost two weeks ago between Sudan and South Sudan along their undemarcated and disputed frontier, in the most serious unrest since the South gained independence from Khartoum last July, after Africa’s longest war.
International fears have mounted of a return to full-blown conflict.
Sudan suspended the leaders’ summit after the border confrontation began on March 26.
Mbeki said talks will resume within seven to 10 days, “because both sides said they are ready to come back to negotiations.”
Juba and Khartoum have traded blame over who started the fighting in the oil-rich Heglig region close to the border.
Sudan’s army has made repeated allegations of incursions by Southern troops, while the South in turn has claimed numerous air strikes on its territory by the north.
In February, the two sides signed a non-aggression pact but it has been repeatedly violated.
Mbeki and Bashir also discussed the future of an estimated 500,000 ethnic Southerners still in the north before a Sunday deadline for them to leave or regularise their status at the end of a grace period following the South’s independence.
“President Bashir said Sudanese people are very hospitable and there are many Africans living in Sudan. For the Southerners, nothing negative will happen to them and there is no reason for fear among them”, Mbeki said.
Under a framework agreement signed by Khartoum and Juba last month, nationals of each country have freedom of residence, movement and economic activity in the other state.
Both countries had also agreed to “accelerate their cooperation” to provide identification and other documents.