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May 2012 - Posts

Qatar urges international financial support to peace in Darfur

May 29, 2012 (KHARTOUM) — Qatar urged the international community to provide the necessary financial support to implement a peace agreement the Sudanese government signed last year with a former rebel group in Darfur.

Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed bin Abdallah al-Mahmoud meets with the US Senior Adviser for Darfur, Dane Smith in Doha on Monday 28 May (photo QNA)

The call was made by the Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Ahmed bin Abdallah al-Mahmoud in a speech he delivered at the third meeting of the High Follow-Up Committee for Peace in Darfur (HFCPD) held in Doha on Monday.

Sudanese government which is facing important financial difficulties, failed to fulfill its financial commitments for the implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) signed on 14 July.

El-Tijani Sissi, head of Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) who failed to get the needed money to establish the headquarters of his administration and pay the salaries of his ministers and staff, warned last April the Sudanese parliament about alarming situation.

However, First Vice President Ali Osman Taha had to intervene and instructed the finance ministry to start paying some $ 200 million dollars the DRA needs to implement the peace deal.

The Qatari deputy prime minister who mediated the deal with the Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassolé, praised the efforts done by Khartoum to transfer the money of Darfur reconstruction fund despite the difficult economic crisis the country experiences.

Al-Mahmoud, told the representatives of the UN Security Council five permanent members and European Union they have to admit the "financial gap" and to "extend a helping hand" to ensure the commitment of all the Sudanese parties to the DDPD.

He further said that an international donors’ conference will be held to support the implementation of Doha agreement, the reconstruction and development of Darfur.

He pointed out that a good deal can not succeed if it does not meet the needed conditions for its implementation.

A donors’ conference for Darfur was held in Egypt in March 2010 more than a year before the signing of the DDPD. But it failed to collected more than $ 850 million.

The United States, European countries, Australia and Japan, at the time, promised generous aid and pledged continued support for the people of Darfur but did not take any formal commitment at the Cairo conference.

Sissi said recently they need eight billion dollars to implement rehabilitation, development and reconstruction projects in Darfur. Qatar and Sudan are committed to pay four billions, he said adding they expect to collect additional four billion from the conference.

Al-Mahmoud told the meeting that his country earmarked $ 31 million to implement early recovery programs including health centers, schools, and potable water and electricity projects besides the establishment of police stations.

Sissi also disclosed that Qatar donated $ 6 million for the newly established regional authority in Darfur.

The meeting was attended by the Chadian foreign minister, Moussa Al-faki, Sudan’s state minister at the presidency Amin Hassan Omer, Tigani Sissi DRA chairman, UNMAID chief Ibrahim Gambari and US Senior Adviser for Darfur Dane Simth besides a number of representatives UNSC permanent members and regional organizations.

BREAKING NEWS: Sudan announces withdrawal of troops from Abyei

May 28, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese army known as SAF has redeployed troops out of the hotly contested region of Abyei at the behest of African Union (AU) mediator Thabo Mbeki, the country’s official news agency, SUNA, reported on Monday.

“The [Sudanese] Armed Forces announces its withdrawal from Abyei on the request of Mbeki” SUNA said, citing a statement by SAF.

Sudan has been under pressure to withdraw troops from Abyei ever since South Sudan did the same earlier this month following a United Nations Security Council’s resolution that ordered both countries to pull out of disputed border regions.

The hotly contested region was occupied by SAF in May last year following an attack against its troops by southern forces in the area.

However, SAF’s statement reiterated claims that Abyei is a “northern” territory and that the decision to withdraw was taken after the government made “a number of demands that guarantees Sudan’s sovereignty over the region.”

The announced withdrawal comes ahead of the resumption on Tuesday of talks between the two neighbors in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the mediation of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Sunday and said that President Al-Bashir told him he was willing to withdraw troops from Abyei.

The status of Abyei was supposed to be determined via a referendum scheduled to take place in January last year, at the same time as the one that granted South Sudan independence. However, the vote stalled as Sudan and South Sudan failed to agree on who has the right to vote.

Sudan files new complaint to Security Council against South Sudan

May 27, 2012 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Saturday has filed a new complaint accusing the South Sudan of carrying attacks on its territory in Darfur and South Kordofan and providing support to rebel groups.

Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the United NationsDaffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman (UN)

Since the independence of the South Sudan in July 2011, Khartoum complains regularly to the UN Security Council over Juba’s alleged support to the rebels in South Kordofan and Darfur. South Sudan on the other side, complains of air attacks on its territory and accuses Khartoum of arming militias groups active in Unity and Bahr El-Ghazal states.

After the 10-day seizure of the oil area of Heglig by the South Sudan army, the Security Council endorsed unanimously the resolution 2046 which includes an African Union road map to end the conflict between the two countries and demanded the belligerents to stop air and ground attacks.

However the two parties, despite the regional and international efforts to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, continue to accuse each other of aerial bombing or ground attack. Juba on 21 and 22 May said Sudan bombarded and shelled its territory.

Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said in a complaint to the United Nations security Council that "The past eight days have seen blatant violations and cross-border attacks by the South Sudanese forces. These attacks represent a clear and repeated breach of the Resolution 2046."

The Sudanese ambassador demanded the Security Council to take the necessary actions to stop the "serious violations" of the UN resolution. He further expressed Khartoum’s readiness to negotiate with Juba under the AU mediation.

Several days ago, the African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki announced that the two parties accepted to resume talks on Tuesday 29 May in Addis Abab. The parties are expected to tackle issues related to the implementation of security agreements aiming to restore a minimum of the needed trust before to discuss the disputed and outstanding issues.

Sudan in its letter to the UN accuses the South Sudan of continuing to support the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) and its allies of Darfur rebel groups. It also alleges that Juba attempted to occupy Sudanese territory during the last week.

Khartoum said the SPLA penetrated 23 km and attempted to seize Meiram in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, near the disputed Abyei region before to repel the assailants. It also accused Juba army of attacking three positions (Kafia Kingi, Siri Malaga and Samaha) in South Darfur on 22 and 24 May.

More, it claimed that South Sudan carried a joint attack with the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement- Minni Minnawi on the town of Um Dafok on the border with the Central African Republic.

The complaint also accused Juba of dispatching troops to attack Talodi, in South Kordofan, in a joint operation with the rebel coalition of Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF).

The communiqué did not provide a date for the attacks on Um Dafok or Talodi but the two areas were attacked by the rebel groups recently.

Sudan refuses to negotiate with the SPLM-N rebels who fight Khartoum in South Kordofan despite the UN resolution 2046. The rebel group who leads SRF alliance also demands a comprehensive and inclusive process to discuss the Sudanese issues and with the participation of the other rebel movements.

The Security Council gave three months for the two parties to reach agreements on key issues including Abyei, oil, citizenship and border demarcation. It further threatened either side with non-military sanctions in the event of non-compliance.

Daffa-Alla further denied accusations that his country, on 22 May, attacked Werguet area located in Northern Bahr Al Ghazal state 30 km inside South Sudan. He said Juba attempts to cover its violations of the UN Security Council.

South Sudan Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin urged the international community to sanction Sudanese government saying Werguet attack is "a slap in the face of the United Nations and the African Union."

U.N. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Haile Menkerios on 16 May briefed the UN Security Council on the compliance of the two countries with the various provisions of Resolution 2046.

US Ambassador t the United Nations Sudan Rice said Menkerios gave a " mixed assessment". But declined that the 15 member council would take sanctions against the two neighbours, stressing that the international community will keep " putting maximum pressure on the parties" to implement the AU road map.

"They know what their obligations are, and we’re supporting all the efforts of Menkarios and Mbeki to accomplish that," she stressed.

Only 16% of South Sudan’s budget reaches state governments - report

May 25, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan provides its ten states with only 16% of the national budget, with 84% being spent by the federal government in Juba, a report by the newly-established Sudd Research Institute revealed on Thursday.

A picture shows notes of the new South Sudan pound, which pictures the late South Sudanese independence leader John Garang, in Juba on July 18, 2011. (Getty)

The author of the report, Augustino Ting Mayai, said there was a need to "increase state funding by reducing spending of the central government to address arrays of challenges, including return migration." He also recommended that state budgets should be weighted by population needs.

Government coffers were, until January, when South Sudan stopped exporting oil through Sudan as part of a transit fee dispute, almost completely dependent on oil revenues.

Having lost 98% of its income, South Sudan is undergoing an intense austerity programme, with leaked documents from the World Bank,  warning that South Sudan was facing a severe economic crises.

Juba is currently looking for finance guaranteed against future oil revenues, either, when exportation resumes through Sudan, or if a new pipeline is built to the East African coast.

Hard currency is in short supply in South Sudan with undercover security agents deployed across Juba to try and prevent black market trade in dollars. Currently a dollar buys 4.5 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) in the black market and 3.7 SSP in the forex bureau and 3.1 SSP at South Sudan’s Central Bank

The report authored by Augustino Ting Mayai, the institute’s director of research, found that: "State budgets are distributed equally without regard to differential population needs, only 16 percent of the total national budget goes to the 10 states; the rest is spent by the central government."

On average South Sudan’s states spend SSP 97mn per year.

"The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning spends 348 million South Sudan Pound annually. The Office of the President spends 159 million South Sudan Pounds, while the Ministry of Health which is a service institution, spends only 68 million South Sudan Pounds," the report says.

Although the study did not assume that South Sudan does not engage in rigorous policy analyses to inform its tasks, Mayai said that the institute "believe that a much more engaging, pragmatic approach is absent."

Government spending was "missing" an "analytic component", he said, adding that a more empirical approach was fundamentally needed, giving the example of the fact that despite the high-level of need at a state level they only received a small fraction of available funds.

The central government has been spending more than state governments since 2006, Mayai said. South Sudan gained self-rule in 2005 as part of peace deal that resulted in separation from Sudan in July last year.

The world’s youngest nation is facing many development challenges including, southern returnees from Sudan, as well as refugees from conflicts in Sudan’s southern border areas.

Overcrowding in urban areas and competition over limited resources are problems that need to be addressed, the report found.

Mayai recommended that international migration could be a source of income for the government but recognised that the presence of so many foreign workers was also a source of tension with South Sudanese citizens.

South Sudanese workers at the United Nations and other employers are often paid far less than their East African and international colleagues. Many East African immigrants have complained of the regular visa fees imposed by Juba, with some deciding not to pay recent increases, making their stay illegal.

The number of foreign immigrants into South Sudan has doubled over the last three years, according to the report, which found that high numbers of South Sudanese returning to the country has accounted for 2.2 percent of the South Sudan’s population total growth rate of 3 percent. However, poor pension schemes mean that people tend not retire, resulting in a very old work force.

The research director recommended that monitoring international migration was an important tool to inform public policy development.

"There is a need to promote research because all of all of these have policy implications," he said.

He further suggested that the promotion education and employment opportunities for women was a way to improve their economic opportunities, emphasising that differentials in pay affect women’s pension benefits.

Sudd Research Institute

The Sudd Research Institute was established on 12 May, with Jok Madut Jok as it’s executive director and Augustino Ting Mayai as director of the research department.

Francis Piol Bol Buk is in charge of media and public relation affairs, with Abraham Awolic, Zachariah Diing and Abraham Makoi taking up administrative assignments, leaving additional positions to be created and filled.

Speaking at the institute’s launch event, Jok, who is also the a undersecretary in South Sudan’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage, explained that the new think tank will in the interim do research in three main areas; governance; peace and security; and development and service delivery.

Other subjects that his team would research would include; social research and analysis; population dynamics and statistics; public forums; publications and specific recommendations tailored to specific government institutions; non-governmental organisations; donor agencies; and civil society.

Sudan and South Sudan to resume talks on 29 May

May 25, 2012 (KHARTOUM) — Delegations from Sudan and South Sudan are expected to resume talks next Tuesday in Addis Ababa over the disputed issues, Sudan Tribune has learnt.

Pagan Amum (left), chief negotiator from South Sudan, lead mediator for the African Union, Thabo Mbeki (centre) and Sudan’s head negotiator Idriss Abdu Qadir , attend African Union-led talks between Sudan and South Sudan in Addis Ababa on March 13, 2012. (Getty)

The chairman of the African Union High Level Panel on Sudan, Thabo Mbeki, met Tuesday 22 May with Sudanese president Omer al-Bashir after his return from Juba where he met president salva Kiir Mayadrit.

Mbeki announced that the parties will resume discussions next week without further details on the positions of the two countries or what they are going to talk about. While Khartoum repeats security issues should be first and Juba says rejecting any conditions.

Sources close to the file, told  that delegations headed by defense and interior ministers from the two countries will meet at the level of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) in Addis Ababa next Tuesday 29 May.

The meeting, which will discuss the implementation of security agreements the parties have already signed, will be attended also by the directors of the intelligence services from both sides.

In its communiqué of 24 April, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) deplored the failure of the two parties to enforce a number of deals they signed on the administration and security of Abyei and the monitoring of border between the two countries.

The AUPSC cited the "Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area of 20 June 2011, the Agreement on Border Security and the Joint Political and Security Mechanism (JPSM) of 29 June 2011, the Agreement on the Border Monitoring Support Mission of 30 July 2011, the decisions of the JPSM of 18 September 2011, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Non? Aggression and Cooperation of 10 February 2012."

The African body also demanded to activate an ad hoc committee, under the JPSM, to investigate violations of border agreements.

In its 24 April resolution the AUPSCdemanded already the mediation, among others, to convene a meeting of the JPSM to discuss security issues "in order to ease the current tension, facilitate the resumption of negotiations on post?secession relations and the normalization of their relations."

The sources said the African mediation in agreement with the JPSM members might decide to send a verification team to consider the establishment of a buffer zone to separate the forces of the two countries.

Speaking to reporters after his first meeting with the Sudanese president on 20 May Mbeki said that Bashir reiterated his commitment to the buffer zone. .

"This means Sudan is committed to have a buffer zone on the border between the two states, 10 kilometers on each side, and also Sudan is committed to have a joint mechanism for monitoring the border and the buffer zone," he said.

The eruption of South Kordofan conflict in June 2011, between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and the Sudanese army added a new difference among the two countries.

Khartoum accuses Juba of supporting the SPLM-N and Darfur rebels who formed an alliance (Sudan Revolutionary Front) aiming to topple the regime of the National Congress Party. But Juba denies and accuses Sudanese government of backing rebel militias.

SPLM Secretary General and Juba top negotiator, welcomed the resumption of talks and further accused Khartoum and the African mediation of violating the roadmap adopted by the Security council in its decision of 2 May.

"Though the Panel has violated the roadmap; the government of Sudan has violated the roadmap. The Government of Sudan and the Panel are both responsible for not complying with the timeline of calling the two countries immediately before the deadline of seventeenth May," He said in a statement to Radio Miraya.

The two parties, in accordance with the resolution 2046, had to start talks within two weeks since its adoption on 2 May.

Eritrean, Sudanese leaders hold talks in Asmara

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle May 24, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - Eritrean President, Issais Afewerki, and his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan Al-Bashir held talks in Asmara on Thursday on a number of bilateral issues of mutual concern to the two East African countries.

Al-Bashir arrived in Asmara on Wednesday for a three-day trip to take part in the Red Sea nation’s 21st independence anniversary, according to Eritrean media outlets. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993 after fighting a long war for independence against Addis Ababa.

The Sudanese-Eritrean talks dealt with enhancing bilateral ties and cooperation including making their shared border more open. Earlier this month Sudan and Eritrea agreed to abolish entry visa requirements, opening their common borders for free movement of both nationals.

The two sides also discussed the poor state of relations between Sudan and South Sudan, which culminated in a conflict over the Heglig border region last month.

South Sudan’s army (SPLA) seized Heglig’s oil fields for ten days in April, raising fears of a possible slide towards a full-blown war between the two neighbours less than a year after South Sudan seceded from Sudan as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Despite a peaceful split last July, Sudan and South Sudan remain at loggerheads over a number of outstanding issues, including on border disputes and an oil transit fee dispute, which led to the total shut down of oil production severely affecting the oil-dependent economies of both countries.

The Africa Union and United Nations Security Council have called for both sides to resume talks and cease hostilities. Juba has accepted the UNSC resolution on 2 May but Khartoum wishes to place conditions on some issues, such as withdrawing from the disputed region of Abyei.

According to a report in April by the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project in Geneva, rebels fighting the South Sudanese government are receiving weapons and ammunition from Sudan and Eritrea.

Khartoum accuses Juba of backing rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states and wants to prioritise security issues at the talks in order to force South Sudan to admitting that it backs it former colleagues. All sides deny the allegations.

Afewerki spoke against South Sudan’s military seizure of Heglig and called on the two sides resolve their dispute over the region peacefully. Juba says that it acted after repeated attacks on its territory from the region.

He further called for Khartoum and Juba to immediately normalise their relations.

Eritrea was the first foreign trip Al-Bashir made after his 2009 indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009. Genocide was added to the list of charges in 2010.

Eritrea, like may other African countries has rejected the ICC’s call for Bashir’s arrest.

The Sudanese government this week called on African nations to withdraw from ICC membership arguing that the continent must voice and act in a united stand against what Khartoum said were the “double standards” of ICC.

Khartoum sees hallmark of Israel in east Sudan missile attack

May 23, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese minister of foreign affairs, Ali Karti, has suggested that Israel is likely to be behind an air strike that destroyed a car and killed one person in the country’s eastern city of Port Sudan on Tuesday.

Photo of the destroyed car

According to early reports by official media outlets, a Toyota Prado car with registration number (09383) “exploded” under an attack from unknown sources at the main entrance of Port Sudan, the capital of the Red Sea State, at around 7:45 am local time.

The driver, identified by Sudan official news agency (SUNA) as “businessman” Nasir Awad Ahmad Saed, was instantly killed. Sources told  that the Nasir is one of the chieftains of Al-Ababda tribes and one of the richest men in Port Sudan. They said he was running a real estate business and owns a number of hotels in the state.

Later on, the Sudanese Media Center (SMC), a news website with close links to the country’s security apparatus, said it obtained information indicating that the explosion was the result of a targeted missile launched from an airplane.

“The manner in which the car was exploded resembles the way Israel carried out similar attacks in the Red Sea State” Karti told the subtly pro-government satellite channel Al-Shoroug on Tuesday.

Israel neither admitted nor denied responsibility for a similar attack that destroyed a vehicle and killed two people in Port Sudan in April 2011.

Photo of the assassinated car driver Nasir Awad Ahmad Saed

Tel Aviv also maintained silence when it was accused of being behind a number of airstrikes carried out in early 2009 against a convoy of arms crossing eastern Sudan allegedly on the way to the Gaza strip which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The Jewish state designates eastern Sudan as a route for smuggling arms to Gaza through Egypt’s Sinai desert. The smuggling activities are believed to be organized by certain ethnic groups in the east.

A spokesman for the Israeli government has declined to comment on Tuesday’s explosion. "I’m not going to respond to generic allegations" Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said when contacted by Reuters.

Authorities in the Red Sea State have formed a team to investigate the incident as teams from the criminal investigation department of the interior ministry and the explosions divisions of the defense ministry were expected to arrive in Port Sudan, as reported by SMC.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged in April 2011 that his country executed attacks abroad to prevent Hamas from arming itself.

Kiir holds talks with Mbeki over post-independence disputes with Sudan

May 22, 2012 (JUBA) - The head of the African Union team mediating between north and South Sudan over a host of security, economic and political issues that arose from South Sudan’s independence last year, said negotiations date could be determined within the week.

Chief mediator for Sudan-South Sudan peace talks, former South Africa president, Thabo Mbeki (L) and Pagan Amum (R) Secretary General of the SPLM (Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement) attend a press conference following a closed-door session of talks in Juba, South Sudan on May 21, 2012 (AFP)

Speaking in Juba after talks with South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir on Monday, Thabo Mbeki, the chair of African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) said the resumption of negotiations would allow the two sides to take practical steps in implementing the African Union Peace and Security Council’s (AUPSC) roadmap agreed on last month.

The pan-African body’s timetable was endorsed by a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution in early May which threatened both sides with non-economic sanctions if they are found in non-compliance with the decision,

Mbeki did not give a specific date on which his panel would propose to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

Juba has welcomed the roadmap without conditions and the UN has verified the withdrawal of its forces from the key contested area of Abyei in accordance with the UNSC resolution. Khartoum’s reaction has been mixed treating the resolution caution by insisting that security matters must be a priority in the hope that this will force South Sudan to end its alleged backing of rebels in Sudanese territory.

Talks were suspended following a border conflict of over Heglig, an oil-producing area inside Sudan’s South Kordofan state which placed the two nations on the verge of a return to all-out war.

The May 2nd UNSC resolution demanded the two sides cease hostilities immediately and to resume negotiations particularly on oil, citizenship, borders and Abyei.

Speaking to reporters at a press briefing at the country’s presidential palace, known as J1, Mbeki described the meeting with president Kiir as “positive” and said the government of South Sudan was committed to respecting a peaceful process to resolve the disputes.

Mbeki has been criticised by some officials in Juba for being too close to Khartoum and not being an even handed mediator. South Sudan’s Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin and others have suggested that East African regional body IGAD should play a wider role.

However, Mbeki said that Kiir had assured him that South Sudan was committed to the African Union mediated process and respecting the resolutions of the United Nations aimed at bringing peace and stability to the citizens of both countries.

“This is a positive indication that South Sudan is committed to producing the positive results required at the end of the talks”, Mbeki told reporters.

Mbeki’s visit followed a trip to Khartoum where he held similar talks with Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir and the leadership of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Part (NCP).

The former South African president also held a joint meeting with South Sudan’s lead negotiating panel, which is chaired by the Secretary General of the country’s governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Pagan Amum.

The meeting, which was also attended by cabinet ministers, discussed the implementation of the AU proposal and UNSC resolution 2046.

At the meeting Amum confirmed Juba’s readiness to resume talks over disputed issues.

Speaking to the press shortly after participating in the meeting, South Sudan’s lead negotiator, Pagan Amum, said his team was ready to resume talks any time anywhere with the “new spirit and cooperation” to reaching lasting settlement.

“We have been ready to resume talks. In fact I want to make it clear that we have never left the negotiation table. It was the delegation of the Sudan which left the negotiating venue”, said Amum.

He expressed hope that the Sudanese delegation comes with an “open heart” to the next round of talks.

But the SPLM SG also appeared skeptical of Khartoum’s desire to negotiate.

Amum accused Bashir of trying "impose preconditions" on the talks, a position which he said was a violation of the UNSC resolution.

"It seems Khartoum is not ready to come [to the talks] ... There is an implied refusal by Khartoum to commit to the negotiations without pre-conditions," he said.

Sudan frees UN deminers captured in Heglig

May 21, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Four United Nations (UN) deminers arrested last month by the Sudanese army along the country’s tense borders with neighbouring South Sudan have been freed and handed over to African Union’s (AU) mediator Thabo Mbeki.

Four unnamed deminers, arrested by the Sudanese army, sit in a van after their release to Chief African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki at the Sudan Defense Headquarters May 20, 2012 (REUTERS)

The four men: a Briton, a Norwegian, a South African and a South Sudanese were captured on 28 April by Sudanese forces in the oil region of Heglig around which Sudan and South Sudan fought a brief war last month.

Sudan accused the men of working for South Sudan. They were later flown to Khartoum where they were detained at a military facility and underwent investigation on charges of entering the country illegally.

The defense minister of Sudan, Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, announced on Sunday that they had released the men to African Union mediator and former South African President Thabo Mbeki who has been in the country since Thursday discussing resumption of diplomatic talks between Khartoum and Juba.

Mbeki personally witnessed the release of the captives and told them that he had asked Sudan’s president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir to free them.

John Sorbo, the released Norwegian, spoke on behalf of his colleagues, thanking the Sudanese government and appreciating Mbeki’s efforts. “We are so happy now that we are going," he added.

After leaving their detention with Mbeki, the men were later turned to their respective embassies.

Security first, Sudan’s Bashir tells Mbeki

May 20, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The chairman of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) saw little change in Khartoum’s position regarding the resumption of negotiations with Juba during his talks today with Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir.

FILE - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (R) meets with Chief African Union mediator and former South African president, Thabo Mbeki (L) in Khartoum on April 6, 2012 (AFP)

Mbeki’s visit comes more than two weeks after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution demanding Sudan and South Sudan to sit down for talks on key post-independence issues including oil, border demarcation, citizenship and Abyei. Both sides must reach an agreement within three months after which the mediation would propose its own solution to the deadlock.

The council threatened non-military sanctions on any party deemed not to be in compliance with its decision.

While Sudan accepted the resolution it insisted that the issue of security and particularly Juba’s alleged support to northern rebels be tackled first before they move to other items.

The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) external relations secretary Ibrahim Ghandour told reporters after the lengthy Mbeki-Bashir meeting that the Sudanese leader underscored the importance of reaching a permanent peace with South Sudan that guarantees no more attacks on its territory.

Last month the Sudanese army managed to recapture the oil-rich region of Heglig inside South Kordofan after South Sudan army (SPLA) briefly seized it. The clashes ignited fears of the eruption of full-scare war between the two countries.

Bashir told Mbeki that rapprochement with Juba requires ceasing support to rebels, halting attacks near borders, honouring previous border monitoring accords and withdrawing what Khartoum claims to be the presence of the 9th and 10th SPLA divisions inside Blue Nile and South Kordofan states where Sudan’s army has been battling rebels from SPLA-North (SPLA-N) since last year.

The Sudanese leader expressed readiness to implement Mbeki’s proposal of a demilitarised zone 10 kilometers inside each country’s borders.

Mbeki on his end mentioned Khartoum’s willingness to withdraw inside 1956 borders but it is not clear if that includes disputed Abyei region which according to last year’s agreement requires both countries to pull out their troops. This month Juba completed its withdrawal but Khartoum refused to despite UNSC orders saying that they will only do so after the establishment of administrative body and the complete deployment of Ethiopian peacekeepers.

The AUHIP chair will now travel to Juba for talks with senior officials there amid growing hostility towards his mediation from South Sudan. The latter has recently stepped up its criticism of Mbeki suggesting that he is favouring Khartoum.

On Friday the South Sudan chief negotiator Pagan Amum called for imposing sanctions on Khartoum saying they violated the UNSC timeline for resuming negotiations with expired on Wednesday.

He criticised the UN and the AU for failing to deal firmly with Sudan, which he said routinely defied the international community.

"The UN sees it as normal for Bashir to bomb and kill the people of South Sudan. The conscience of the international community is not pricked ... they are used to it, it has become normal," he complained.

"If the UN fails to take action, they will be judged by humanity and the people of South Sudan will lose trust and confidence in them," Amum said.

"We are going to ask them, ’What are you going to do?’” he posed the question.

The Sudanese foreign ministry described Amum’s remarks as “unfortunate” and accused Juba of attacking Sudan’s territories.

Sudan central bank allows Forex bureaus to determine own exchange rate

May 18, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Foreign exchange (Forex) bureaus in Sudan will be able to buy and sell currencies using their own exchange rate away from the official one, it was announced today.

FILE - An official leaves after a news conference presenting Sudan’s new currency at the Central Bank headquarters in Khartoum July 16, 2011 (Reuters)

The privately owned Al-Shorooq TV on its website quoted the deputy Secretary General of Forex bureaus union Abdel-Moniem Nur al-Deen as saying that this decision was communicated to them during a meeting with central bank officials.

Abdel-Moniem said that Forex bureaus no longer have to abide by the official exchange rate and can now use the market rate in their daily trading operations.

The move was taken in order to curb the flourishing black market for hard currency and also to attract transfers by Sudanese expatriates abroad, he added.

Sources told Al-Shorooq TV that the central bank will soon allow commercial banks to do the same.

Since the secession of oil-rich South Sudan, Sudan has struggled to contain the deteriorating value of its own currency as the flow of hard currency was sharply curtailed.

The US dollar traded for twice the official rate of 2.7 Sudanese pounds despite multiple interventions by the central bank to inject hard currency into the market.

But because of the depleting Forex reserves, the ability of the Central Bank of Sudan to influence the exchange rate on the market has been limited.

Khartoum dispatched several delegations to friendly nations, particularly Arab Gulf states, seeking help but so far only Qatar has made a commitment of $2 billion, which will be used to buy government bonds.

Last week, officials in Sudan’s central bank announced that it has received a "large" transfer of cash from an unnamed foreign source. They projected that this would soon reflect in a 50% decrease in the exchange rate of the US dollar on the black market.

Banks and Forex bureaus are only allowed to sell a limited amount of hard currency to individuals and only if they can provide a valid justification including travel for medical treatment or studying abroad.

Mbeki expected in Khartoum to discuss talks with South Sudan

May 17, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – African Union’s (AU) mediator for Sudan and South Sudan, Thabo Mbeki, is expected to touch ground in the capital Khartoum within 48 hours to discuss details of resuming negotiations between the two countries, a Sudanese official has announced.

FILE PHOTO - AU mediator Thabo Mbeki speaks with media after his meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on April 6, 2012 (GETTY)

The official spokesman of Sudan’s foreign ministry, Al-Obaid Adam Marawih, said in a press release on Tuesday that Khartoum was awaiting the arrival of Mbeki “today or tomorrow.”

He pointed out that the visit aims to discuss the date and detailed agendas of the next round of talks between Sudan and South Sudan.

Both countries are currently under pressure from the AU and the UN Security Council (UNSC) to abide by the latter’s 2 May resolution which dictated under the threat of sanctions that Khartoum and Juba return within a week to negotiations over oil, citizenship, border demarcation and the status of Abyei region.

The resolution also ordered Khartoum and Juba to conclude the talks within three months.

Mbeki and his AU High Level Panel (AUHIP) have mediated the negotiations since South Sudan split in July last year and until they floundered dangerously in early April, leading to the outbreak of military confrontations between the two countries along their poorly-defined border.

Khartoum has been insisting that the next round of negotiations accords priority to security issues in the hope of a deal that sees Juba severing its alleged ties to the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) and other Sudanese insurgents fighting the government in the country’s border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Although Khartoum has officially accepted the UNSC resolution, senior Sudanese officials continue to indicate that they will not discuss other issues unless the security question is addressed first.

Meanwhile in Juba, the Chinese presidential envoy Zong Jinghao said following a meeting with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on Monday that his country is fully supporting what he described as a mutual desire on the part of Juba and Khartoum to end hostilities and return to negotiations.

Jinghao, whose country is the leading investor in the oil sector on both sides of the borders, also said that Beijing supports efforts by the AU and UNSC to bring peace between the two countries.

Sudan journalist re-arrested as rights group calls for end of harassments

May 16, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The ordeal of Sudanese journalist Faisal Mohamed Salih continued on Tuesday when he was re-arrested and arraigned before the state security court on the charge of “disobeying law men.”

FILE PHOTO - Sudanese journalist Faisal Mohamed Salih (Deutsche WelleK. Danetzk)

Salih has already been subjected to a ten-day period of harassments by the National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) against the background of comments he made in an interview with the Qatari-based Al-Jazzera TV regarding the conflict in Sudan’s border region of South Kordofan.

He was detained briefly on Tuesday last week after he quit complying with NISS orders to report to their office on daily basis for an investigation that, according to him, happened only once while he spent the rest of the days sitting at the office’s reception.

The prominent columnist of the privately owned daily newspaper Al-Akhbar was arrested again on Tuesday’s morning.

Hours later, he appeared at the court of state security which charged him under article 94 of the Penal Criminal Code which pertains to “disobeying law men”

This particular charge may carry a sentence of one month in prison plus a fine.

Meanwhile, global rights group Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement demanding that the Sudanese authorities cease “relentless harassment” of journalists and media organizations.

AI’s Sudan researcher Baptiste Gallopin charged that the Sudanese authorities “are deploying a wide array of coercive measures against individuals and media organizations to discourage or prevent independent reporting and critical comment.”

Gallopin was further quoted as saying that “the re-arrest of Faisal Saleh is a smack in the face for free speech and the Sudanese authorities must ensure that the NISS ends these constant attempts to silence any form of dissent.”

AI’s statement also said that Al-Maydan newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Sudanese Communist Party, has had its copies confiscated by NISS agents at the printing press for the fifth time in five weeks, adding that the move had put the publication’s financial future “in jeopardy.”

Sudan’s FM makes surprise criticism of Bashir comments against Juba

May 15, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese foreign minister, Ali Karti, raised eye brows on Monday when he directed a thinly veiled criticism against the country’s president Omer Al-Bashir over his inflammatory comments against the leaders of neighboring South Sudan.

FILE PHOTO - Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti (GETTY)

Al-Bashir made a number of derogatory remarks against the leadership of South Sudan in mobilization rallies preceding the Sudanese army’s takeover on 20 July of Heglig oilfields from South Sudan which occupied the area for ten days.

He threatened to invade the south and topple the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) which he described as “an insect” that must be crushed and went as far as saying that its leaders need to be “disciplined by the stick.”

Speaking at a parliament session devoted to discussing his last week’s report on the performance of the foreign ministry, Karti said without specifically mentioning Al-Bashir that the behavior of some politicians has had “disastrous effects” on Sudan’s foreign policy, citing examples of how the president’s remarks were understood.

“The talk that they [SPLM leaders] are a group that only understands the stick was interpreted to be referring to the poem of [Abu El-Tayib] El-Mutanabi that says “you shall not buy a slave without a stick” and the term insect was likened to the use of the term cockroaches by the Hutu [ethnic group] against the Tutsi during the Rwandan massacres.”

Karti cautioned that Africa was still reeling from “an inferiority complex” that makes its leaders prone to interpreting any statement within certain contexts even if it was well-intentioned.

Al-Bashir’s terms were spread and popularized by state and anti-South Sudan media, including the conservative newspaper Al-Intibaha. These comments are widely thought to have created an environment that allowed a mob of Islamist extremists to attack a church building in Khartoum and set it on fire.

Parliament accepts UNSC resolution amid reservations

Separately, the Sudanese parliament has announced accepting “with reservations” the UN Security Council’s resolution number 2046 on the situation between Sudan and South Sudan despite criticism raised by some MPs that the resolution contains elements targeting Sudan.

The resolution, which was adopted unanimously by the 15-member council on 2 May, ordered Sudan and South Sudan to cease hostilities and return to negotiations on oil, citizenship, border-demarcation and the status of Abyei region, threatening both sides with non-military actions should they fail to conclude talks within three months.

The resolution also dictated that Sudan “cooperates” with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) which is fighting the government in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in order to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

In a statement issued on Monday, the parliament’s committee of external relations announced acceptance of the resolution but inserted reservations calling for prioritization of security issues during negotiations.

The parliament also rejected the resolution’s use of the word “disputed” in referring to areas contested between the two countries as well as any calls for dialogue with the SPLM-N since the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile was “an internal affair”

The parliament’s speaker, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, warned during Monday’s session that Sudan’s respect of the international community hinges on the latter’s respect of the country’s sovereignty.

“Any detraction of our sovereignty will render their resolutions unacceptable to us. We cannot afford to compromise our values.”

The head of the ruling National Congress Party’s (NCP) parliamentary bloc, Ghazi Salah Al-Din Al-Atabani, described the UNSC resolution as malicious and detractive of Sudan’s rights.

He however acknowledged that the government cannot reject the resolution since it also concerns South Sudan and that the latter’s acceptance of it would gain Juba international sympathy and direct the frustration of the international community towards Khartoum.

Sudan receives "large" transfer of cash from foreign source: official

May 14, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan has received a "large" transfer of cash from unspecified source which would soon cause a 50% jump in the value of the local currency against the U.S. dollar, officials in Khartoum said.

A Sudanese man shows freshly-minted notes of the new Sudanese pound in Khartoum on July 24, 2011 (Getty)

The deputy governor of Sudan’s central bank Badr al-Deen Suleiman said that the funds have already been received by his institution but declined to disclose the source or the amount.

Sources in Khartoum told Sudan Tribune that the latest foreign cash infusion came from Libya.

Suleiman projected that it would have a big impact on stabilizing the Forex market in Sudan.

"The few coming days will witness significant decline in [U.S. dollar] exchange rate," Suleiman said.

The secession of the oil-rich south last July caused suffered a sharp drop in revenues and foreign currency influx for Khartoum.

The Sudanese pound has lost half of its value against other major currencies and particularly the U.S. dollar which has become scarce in the market.

Last month, U.S. dollar bought 6.1 pounds on the black market, a historic low since the Sudanese pound was introduced in 2007, the traders told Reuters. The official rate has remained about the same, at around 3 pounds to the dollar.

Sudanese officials have pleaded for help with Arab countries and China but so far only Qatar has come forward with a $2 billion investment announcement.

The finance minister Ali Mahmood Abdel-Rasool confirmed Suleiman’s announcement adding that he expects the black market rate to drop by 50%.

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