North and south Sudan must overcome challenges: AU chief

Addis Ababa
November 24, 2008 (AFP)

"Significant strides" have been made in the Sudanese peace process, African Union head Jean Ping said Monday, but warned many challenges still lie ahead.

Ping's comments came as he met with AU members in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to discuss the progress made on a 2005 peace deal known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

"The two parties have demonstrated a clear commitment to dialogue, to overcome the challenges facing them," the head of the AU commission said.

"At the same time, many challenges still lie ahead," he added, referring to the expected 2009 elections, the 2011 referendum for south Sudan on independence and a final agreement on the north-south boundary.

Ping described the security situation in south Sudan as "calm", but warned the oil-rich region of Abyei in the west remained less stable.

Fighting between southern and northern Sudanese forces last May in the contested border area of Abyei, which has oil wealth estimated at half a billion dollars, was seen as the biggest threat yet to the 2005 peace deal. A large number of civilians fled the area.

The 2005 agreement ended a devastating 21-year civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, uniting them in a national government in Khartoum and handing semi-autonomy to the south.

When a six-year transition period is due to end in 2011, the CPA calls for a referendum in the south on whether to remain part of a united Sudan or choose full independence.

National elections are scheduled in 2009 although preparations have been falling behind.

Barnaba Marial Benjamin, minister for regional cooperation in the south Sudan government, said the north-south border must be resolved before the south can hold a vote on independence.

"The boundary is also crucial because of the sharing of oil wealth. We are sharing oil wealth (with Khartoum) within south Sudan and if we have no boundaries, we can't know where those oil wells are," he added.

Most of Sudan's proven oil reserves, the country's primary source of revenue, are in the landlocked south which lacks its own export pipeline.

Benjamin also voiced his concern that most humanitarian aid had been diverted to conflict-ridden Darfur in the east, leaving less for the south.


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