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South Sudan’s Kiir in Khartoum to avert oil shutdown

Published: Updated:

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir arrived in Khartoum on Tuesday for a summit aimed at averting a shutdown of oil pipelines vital to both stricken economies, an AFP reporter said.

Kiir, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, arrived on a Kenya Airways jet at about 7:10 GMT. The South Sudanese leader was welcomed on the tarmac by his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir and cabinet ministers as a military band played.

Sudan has threatened to close from Friday the lines carrying landlocked South Sudan’s oil exports -- virtually its only source of foreign revenue.

Analysts expect Bashir will use the oil issue to earn concessions from the South on matters including its alleged support for rebels in the north.

Kiir’s visit came at Bashir's invitation and will last just one day, Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti told reporters at the airport.

“Sure, it is not enough to discuss all the outstanding issues but it will solve some of them and it shows the goodwill of the two countries,” he said.

While Sudanese officials and media spoke positively about the visit, similar optimism has prevailed before only to see the two countries -- whose border clashes early last year sparked fears of wider conflict -- fail to implement what they agreed.

“As [the] oil transport deadline looms it is expected that the extension of oil transport will be on top of the agendas to be discussed considering that its revenues benefit both countries and represent a good approach to strike deals on other issues,” the pro-Khartoum government Sudan Vision daily wrote in a Tuesday editorial.

It urged the two leaders to “seize this opportunity.”

In June, Khartoum said it was freezing nine security and economic pacts with the South, and it threatened to shut the oil pipelines.

The decision came after Bashir warned the South's government in Juba over its alleged support for insurgents, who analysts said had humiliated the authorities with their attacks.

Khartoum has twice extended its deadline to stop the oil flow.

El Shafie Mohammed el-Makki, a specialist in international relations at the University of Khartoum, said he thinks Kiir’s trip is timed to the Friday oil deadline.

“If he didn’t come, maybe they are going to shut down,” he told AFP.

At the same time, Makki said Bashir will try to win concessions from Kiir so that the borders can reopen to trade in goods which the South needs from the north.

Makki said Bashir would also want South Sudan to halt its alleged backing for the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebels from the Darfur region, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

“They will try to bargain,” he said of the two presidents.

The Revolutionary Front this year widened its offensive in Sudan.

Khartoum has twice extended its deadline to shut the oil pipelines, and despite the threat oil has continued flowing for export.

The deadline extensions followed an appeal from African Union mediators.

The regional group has been investigating allegations that both Sudan and South Sudan have supported insurgents on each other’s territory.

Regional nations were also trying to determine the center line of a demilitarized buffer zone along the two countries' disputed and undemarcated border.

The buffer zone, designed to cut cross-border rebel support, was among the nine deals Sudan and South Sudan began to implement in March after they failed to go into effect following their signing in September.

The deals also included fees which South Sudan would pay for sending its oil through Sudan for export, and allowed for the free flow of people and goods across the frontier between the two nations.

Sudan would potentially earn billions of dollars from the oil fees, and billions more would reach Juba's treasury from the crude exports.

Kiir last visited Khartoum in October 2011, a few months after his country became independent from Sudan under a peace deal which ended a 23-year civil war.