A comprehensive deal — as opposed to another stepping-stone agreement — would have to include a settlement on Abyei, a Lebanon-sized border area currently controlled by Ethiopian peacekeepers.
The buffer zone would also potentially cut support for rebel forces in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions that Khartoum accuses Juba of backing, just as the South accuses Sudan of arming rebels in its territory.
The UN set a deadline for a deal after border fighting broke out in March, when Southern troops briefly wrested the valuable Heglig oil field from Khartoum’s control, and Sudan launched bombing raids in response.
But even among the most optimistic diplomats, there seemed little chance of a breakthrough to solve the growing humanitarian crises in Sudan’s civil war states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
However, it was hoped the deal would also settle the details of last month’s agreement to fix the oil export fees that landlocked South Sudan will pay to ship crude through Khartoum’s pipelines to the Red Sea.
At independence, Juba took two-thirds of the region’s oil, but processing and export facilities remained in Sudan. In January, the South shut off oil production after accusing Sudan of stealing its oil.