ADDIS ABABA - According to the African Union roadmap and the UN Security Council resolution, direct negotiations on all pending issues between South Sudan and Sudan have to be concluded on Saturday, September 22.
This new deadline came after the negotiations were extended by 50 days when President Bashir failed to turn up for the summit scheduled on July 30 in Addis Ababa. It is unlikely that the deadline will be extended again as that will tarnish the credibility of the AU and the UN.
If the two countries reach solutions on the pending issues, the panel will summit this agreement to the African Union Peace and Security Council for endorsement. It will then be forwarded to the UN Security Council for enforcement.
If, however, the parties fail to agree, the panel will submit to the AU Council the agreed solutions, and proposed solutions for issues not agreed upon, for endorsement. They will be final and binding. These will be forwarded to the UN Council for enforcement under Chapter VII of it Charter.
It is expected that the AU Council, currently chaired by Egypt, will convene immediately after the deadline of September 22. It will receive a report and proposed solutions from the panel.
Also the UN Council may convene a Sudan Forum meeting on September 27 in New York to receive a progress report from the panel while waiting for the final report, including the AU Council’s endorsed resolutions for all the pending issues.
The parties are still negotiating with the hope of preparing a comprehensive agreement for the two presidents to sign at the summit scheduled for Sunday, September 23.
While the two presidents have accepted to attend the summit, you cannot be sure about the participation of President Bashir as a call for his arrest by human rights activists is haunting him wherever he goes.
Although the new leadership of Ethiopia will provide President Bashir with all necessary protection, business will not be as usual after the death of Prime Minister Meles. There could be some voices in Ethiopia questioning his visit.
While the spirit of the negotiating teams in Addis seems genuine in resolving all pending issues before the summit, the parties are trying to maximise their gains in the remaining days.
This last minute behaviour, particularly from Sudan, produces rather erratic positions that create an environment of despair and apathy. The negotiating team of Sudan seems not only divided but also weak, uncertain, irrational and unreasonable.
On the other hand, the negotiating team of South Sudan has shown that it is serious and determined to reach an agreement with Sudan. The fear is that the Juba team may concede to a level that will make it difficult to sell the agreement to the people of South Sudan.
Generally, the parties seem to make progress, with some sticking points on oil and other payments, border, security arrangements and Abyei.
On oil, Sudan reneged smartly by arguing that the agreed transit fee of $1 per barrel is only for the oil entitlements of the Government of South Sudan but not for the oil companies.
It has managed to set $4 per barrel as transit fee for the oil entitlements of the oil companies. This high transit fee, if accepted by the oil companies, may be indirectly borne by the Government of South Sudan.
Also, despite the fact that the South has forgiven Sudan’s arrears and claims, Khartoum refused to give back two out of the five oil shipments belonging to the South which Sudan diverted.
While the South, in the spirit of good relations, accepted to avail to Sudan $3 billion in assistance, Sudan through its oil company filed a legal case against the South, claiming compensation of $1.2 billion for the loss of its shares in the oil fields in the South.
These are artificial differences created by Sudan. However, they are not insurmountable and the summit could easily resolve them.
On the border, the parties are likely to resort to international arbitration on the five disputed areas after receiving the opinion of the AU border team experts.
However, there is a sharp difference on the claimed areas, including Panthou (Hegilig). While Sudan refuses to consider these claimed areas for international arbitration, the South is adamant to take them for arbitration.
Another sticking point is whether the parties will continue exploration and development activities of the natural resources in the disputed and claimed areas.
The South sees it appropriate to halt these activities until the ruling of the international arbitration court, while Sudan insists the activities should continue.
Probably the panel may assist the summit to reach an agreement on all the issues related to the border.
On the border security arrangements, Sudan continues to reject the map provided by the AU and UN for the establishment of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone.
In particular, Sudan singled out the 14 miles area and proposes the forces of the South to withdraw beyond 14 miles. It suggests a joint Dinka Malual-Rizeygat traditional administration of this area.
The South, on the other hand, maintains its unconditional acceptance of the map provided by the AU and UN. It rejects the proposal of Sudan on the 14 miles and proposes the demilitarization of all the disputed and claimed areas if Sudan continues to reject the AU/UN map.
It is most likely that the panel may propose an amicable solution to the summit to overcome the differences on border security arrangements.
On the final status of Abyei, the panel maintains its position to present to the two presidents its proposal on the final status of Abyei, conform the provisions of the June 2011 agreement.
Prior to the summit, the panel shared with the two presidents its analysis of the Abyei area, upon which its proposal will be based. This analysis seems to clarify the issue of eligibility to vote in a referendum, the expected outcome of the Abyei referendum and the challenges for turning this outcome into a win-win situation.
It is worth noting that while the June 2011 agreement mandates the panel to make a proposal on the final status of Abyei to be considered by the two presidents, the AU roadmap mandates the panel to propose a final and binding solution if the parties fail to agree.
The panel will most probably propose a referendum with only the Ngok Dinka and other residents as eligible voters but not the nomads. It may also propose this referendum to be conducted within one year by a commission chaired by somebody appointed by either the AU or the UN.
Since the outcome of the referendum is known, another possibility is that the panel proposes the immediate transfer of Abyei to the South with specific proposals for mitigating the consequences of this transfer.
President Bashir will most likely reject a direct transfer and will opt for a referendum. President Salva Kiir may go for immediate transfer and commit himself to make more efforts to mitigate the consequences for the Misseriya pastoralists and the Khartoum government.
The final status of Abyei may be the only issue the two presidents will not agree upon. This will force the panel to make a final and binding proposal to the AU Council and the UN Security Council.
In conclusion, the remaining issues are solvable if there is a political will. The two presidents are coming to the summit after they have experienced the economic, political and social cost of bad relations between the two countries. It would be suicidal for them not to reach amicable solutions for the pending issues.
President Bashir will face enormous challenges if he continues to be intransigent. Even Islamic movements worldwide have come to see Bashir as a liability to Islam. His recent visit to Egypt might have sent him signals as he failed to receive due attention and courtesy, even from some well-known Islamic leaders and scholars.
In Sudan, the Islamists in NCP also see Bashir as a liability and they may work for change from within. That may result in a miserable end for Bashir.
The poor handling of the demonstrations in Khartoum against the US and other western countries over the unjustified film about Prophet Mohamed sent a clear signal to Sudan’s friends in western countries of the need to support the option of regime change.
President Bashir stands a chance during this summit to cleanse his image by boldly agreeing with his Brother Salva Kiir on all pending issues, including Abyei and SPLM-North.
That might give him a window of opportunity to exit peacefully from power, with a legacy of a peaceful and stable Sudan that has good relations with its twin country, South Sudan.
The author is the former minister of the Presidency in GOSS