South Sudan’s vice president to visit Khartoum amid oil row

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South Sudan’s vice president will visit Sudan on Sunday, both sides said on Saturday, marking the highest-level talks between the long-time African foes since Khartoum threatened to stop cross-border oil flows.

Relations hit a new low three weeks ago when Sudan said it would halt South Sudanese oil exports passing through the north for shipment abroad within 60 days unless Juba ended support for rebels operating across the border. Juba denies the claims.

The neighbors, which fought decades of civil wars that ended in 2005, came close to war in April 2012 when tensions over oil pipeline fees and disputed territory escalated.

South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar will arrive in Khartoum on Sunday for a two-day visit, Sudan’s state news agency SUNA said. He will meet Sudan’s First Vice President Ali Osman Taha, it said, adding that South Sudan’s Oil Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau and other ministers would also join Machar.

A South Sudanese official confirmed the visit.

The dispute threatens to hit supplies to Asian buyers such as China National Petroleum Corp, India’s ONCG Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas, which run the oilfields in both countries.

Diplomats said they doubted Sudan would close the two cross-border export pipelines because its economy has been suffering without South Sudan’s pipeline fees.

Oil used to be the main source for Sudan’s budget until the south’s secession in July 2011, when Khartoum lost 75 percent of its oil production and its status as oil exporter overnight.

Both countries accuse each other of backing rebels on the other’s territory, one of several conflicts stemming from the division of what was once Africa’s largest country.

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