A day after the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan met here, the 54-nation African Union Sunday asked both countries to honour the Aug 2 deadline to resolve issues of territory, oil revenues and citizenship and pressed for the emergence of two viable states living in peace and harmony with each other.
“The relations between Sudan and South Sudan have shown some improvement. The AU has taken the lead in resolving the crisis. The African Union roadmap must be implemented,” said Jean Ping, the chairperson of the AU Commission, the principal executive body of the AU.
He was speaking at the opening session of the heads of state and government meeting in the Ethiopian capital, the headquarters of the AU.
“The two countries must honour the Aug 2 deadline set by the AU and the UN so that two viable states living in peace with each other could emerge,” he said.
Leaders from other African countries also urged the governments in Khartoum and Juba to resolve their differences on oil and border demarcation before the UN's deadline.
Ping was speaking a day after Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir Saturday met on the sidelines of the AU summit in a hotel here and agreed to find a way forward to resolve all outstanding issues.
This was the first meeting between the two leaders from Khartoum and Juba since March, before Sudanese and South Sudanese forces clashed over the disputed Heglig oil zone in April.
“Their statements persuaded us that there is good will,” Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who chairs the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC), told reporters after the closed-door session.
“The two leaders are taking a new strategic approach to finding a comprehensive solution to all outstanding issues between the two countries," said Pagan Aman, South Sudan's chief negotiator, in an interview.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been appointed as the crisis mediator and will provide a progress report before the 2 August deadline.
The Sudan-South Sudan standoff issue figured prominently in discussions at the PSC.
The PSC, the continent’s premier body on security issues, called for the finalisation of the agreements on payment of the oil transit fees, the immediate demarcation of the north-south border and the resumption of the two-party talks.
“The two parties have adopted the concept of strategic partnership and the commitment to build on this mutually-beneficial partnership,” said AU's Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra.
The council also called for the completion of the talks and the immediate re-opening of the north-south border to allow the border communities to start trading with each other, key components of post-conflict relationship between the two states which formally split in July last year.
The two countries came close to an all-out war in April after South Sudan attacked the oil-rich region of Heglig.
Asked whether there Sudan and South Sudan will face sanctions if they fail to meet the Aug 2 ultimatum, Lamamra said it would be speculative to imagine the parties would not have made progress by that date.
The African leaders who attended the meeting of the 15-member PSC, also asked the two sides to urgently convene a meeting to finalise the formation of the Executive Council for the contested region of Abyei.