ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan signed deals on Thursday to secure their shared border and boost trade, including a restart of crucial oil exports, but they failed to resolve other conflicts remaining after the South seceded last year.
The deal, reached after more than three weeks of negotiations, will throw both ailing economies a lifeline and prevent, for now, a resumption of the fighting that broke out along the border in April and nearly led to all-out war.
Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir signed cooperation and trade deals to applause at a packed room in a five-star hotel in Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union, which has been brokering the talks.
“We are convinced that what has happened, which culminated in signing of the agreements, constitutes a giant step forward for both countries,” AU mediator Thabo Mbeki said.
The defence ministers of both countries also signed a deal to set up a demilitarised buffer zone along the joint border.
Bashir said it was a “historic moment for building peace” between the former civil war foes.
The deal will allow landlocked South Sudan to resume oil exports though Sudan, which will provide both ailing economies with dollars. The South in January had shut down its entire output of 350,000 barrels a day after the countries argued about transit fees.
Faced with the threat of U.N. sanctions and economic collapse, Bashir and Kiir, whose relationship has been marred by years of civil war, agreed to set up the demilitarised zone.
But the two sides failed to settle the fate of at least five disputed, oil-producing regions along the 1,800 km (1,200 mile) border, despite pressure from the African Union, the United States and other Western powers.
They were also unable to reach a solution for the border region of Abyei, which has symbolic significance to both and is rich in grazing lands.
Kiir, who described the talks as “difficult”, thanked Bashir for his cooperation but blamed his northern neighbour for failing to reach a deal on Abyei.