South Sudan Crisis: A Rare Compliment For Khartoum From Britain!

Britain commends Khartoum’s ‘balanced’ S. Sudan role

By Ian Timberlake

markimagesMark Simmonds, Britain’s Minister for Africa

January 24, 2014 [Khartoum, AFP] — Britain Thursday praised Sudan’s role in supporting efforts to bring peace to its former foe South Sudan, while a Sudanese official spoke of a “breakthrough” in attempts to end the fighting.

“I very much commend Sudan for the balanced role it has played so far in support for the IGAD-led negotiations,” Mark Simmonds, the British minister for Africa, told reporters after a two-day visit to Khartoum.

Sudan is one of seven members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African bloc that is mediating the South Sudanese conflict.

SalvaKiirwithnohatimagesFor the past month, forces loyal to President Salva Kiir have been battling a loose coalition of army defectors and ethnic militia nominally headed by Riek Machar, Kiir’s ex-vice president.

“We know both sides very well, more than anybody else in this world,” Sudan’s Information Minister, Ahmed Bilal Osman, told AFP.

Sudan is engaged in “high-level” contacts between the two sides, he said.

Khartoum has made a “very measured response”, by making sure that both warring parties in South Sudan “understand the necessity firstly to implement a ceasefire and secondly then come to the negotiating table”, Simmonds said.

The talks, in Ethiopia, have been deadlocked with leaders squabbling and rebels demanding the release of political prisoners.

However, Osman said the prisoner issue has now been separated from others.

“That’s why a breakthrough has happened,” he said, hopeful that a ceasefire can follow.

“Both sides, they are keen to stop the war… the cost is very heavy,” Osman said. “I think they are ready.”

Like Sudan, the United Kingdom believes that there cannot be a military solution in the South, Simmonds said.

“Both sides must sit down and reach a political outcome,” he said after talks with Sudanese cabinet ministers, opposition figures and others.

Simmonds visited South Sudan in December.

The South became independent from Khartoum in 2011 under a peace deal that ended a 22-year civil war.

But tensions continued and the two countries fought periodic border clashes in 2012.

Disputes over oil fees and Khartoum’s accusations that Juba supported rebels on northern soil strained relations until a September summit between Kiir and his counterpart, Omar al-Bashir.

The countries adopted a markedly friendly tone after the summit affirmed their commitment to implement a series of economic and security pacts, including a guarantee that southern oil would move through Sudan’s pipelines for export via the Red Sea.

Oil production formed more than 95 percent of South Sudan’s fledgling economy before the fighting began one month ago.

Fees paid by South Sudan to export its oil through northern infrastructure are also a significant revenue-earner for cash-strapped Sudan.

Khartoum retained control of the South’s only oil export link after southern independence.

Simmonds said there is a “potential detrimental economic impact” on Sudan from the southern fighting.

“There clearly has been a reduction in the oil production because of the conflict in South Sudan. It was one of the issues that I discussed in my meetings with government ministers,” he said.

At the same time, a higher volume of southern crude is being pumped through the export pipelines in the north “because they want to empty the tankers there in the field” as fighting continues, Osman said.

This has meant an increase in export revenue for the South and higher fee income for Sudan, he said.

A South Sudanese embassy official confirmed that oil revenue has risen and the flow of southern crude to Port Sudan has increased.

“The quantity, I’m not sure,” the official said.

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