, JUBA, Apr 12 – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir will visit South Sudan Friday for the first time since the country won its independence in 2011, a sign of easing tensions after bloody border battles last year.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, Bashir’s former civil war foe and an ex-rebel commander, is due to welcome his counterpart at Juba airport, according to a statement from the South’s presidency.
The streets of Juba were lined with security forces who had started deploying on Thursday night. The only vehicles on the road were official convoys and the few pedestrians moving around were subject to constant security checks.
“After reception at the airport, the two presidents will head for the state house” for talks, South Sudan’s office of the president said in a statement.
Sudan’s official SUNA news agency said late Thursday that Bashir and Kiir would discuss “the relations between the two countries and how to develop and continue these relations for the benefit of both nations.”
Bashir, who is visiting after a personal invitation by Kiir, is expected to arrive in mid morning.
Bashir, who fought a 1983-2005 civil war against then southern rebels — now the official South Sudanese army — attended the July 9 2011 declaration of independence in Juba, when the impoverished but oil rich land became the world’s newest nation.
He left just hours after independence was declared.
But independence left key issues unresolved, including how much the South should pay for shipping its oil through Sudanese pipelines for export.
South Sudan stopped all of its crude production early last year, cutting off most of its revenue after accusing Khartoum of theft.
The two nations battled on their undemarcated border one year ago, with Khartoum’s warplanes bombing the South, and Juba sending troops deep into disputed areas to battle Sudanese soldiers.
The fighting raised fears of wider war with intermittent clashes continuing for several months, but international pressure reined both sides into an uneasy standoff.
But at talks in Addis Ababa in March, Sudan and South Sudan finally settled on detailed timetables to improve relations by resuming the oil flows and implementing eight other key pacts including one for a demilitarised border buffer zone.
The deals had remained dormant after signing in September as Khartoum pushed for guarantees that South Sudan would no longer back rebels fighting in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Since timetables were agreed, official delegations from the two countries have held a series of meetings to begin implementing the pacts.
Kiir telephoned Bashir after the Addis timetables were reached, inviting him for a visit. Bashir agreed but no date had been confirmed until Tuesday.
Last Saturday, South Sudan held a ceremony to restart oil production, which official Sudanese media said would be shipped again from Port Sudan in the north by the end of May.
Following these developments, Bashir’s visit occurs “in a positive environment”, Khartoum’s ambassador to South Sudan Mutrif Siddiq said, according to SUNA.
Bashir “will receive a warm welcome in Juba from the government and the people of South Sudan,” Siddiq added.
The oil shutdown cost both impoverished nations billions of dollars. China was the biggest buyer of the oil.
South Sudan separated with roughly 75 percent of the 470,000 barrels per day of crude produced by the formerly unified country.
Refineries and export pipelines stayed under Khartoum’s jurisdiction but the two countries could not agree on how much Juba should pay to use that infrastructure, including the Red Sea export terminal.
South Sudan said petroleum provided 98 percent of its revenue.
The Addis agreements, among other provisions, also call for free flow of people and goods between the two nations.