December 20, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan and South Sudan are due to enter in mid-January a new round of negotiations aimed at resolving their dispute over oil, AU mediators have announced.
FILE - Senior South's top negotiator Pagan Amum speaks during a news conference in Khartoum (REUTERS)
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), which has been mediating talks between the recently separated countries, set out a timetable for a new round of talks from 17th to 23rd January in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The AUHIP said that the proposed timetable was made following consultation with both parties. The new round of talks is hoped to bring the two countries to reach a settlement to their long-standing dispute over the fees ought to be paid by the landlocked South Sudan for the use of pipelines owned by Sudan to bring the former's oil to export terminals in the latter's main sea outlet of Port Sudan. The former round of talks collapsed in late November after the AUHIP failed to bridge the gap between the two neighbors, leading to an open exchange of hostilities with Khartoum threatening to take 23 percent of the south's oil exports and Juba warning it would suspend production should Sudan makes such move. An AUHIP-proposed compromise for Juba to pay Khartoum an annual percentage of oil exports has failed as Sudan rejected the south's offer of US$5.4 billion offer and demanded US$7.4. In its statement, the AUHIP revealed that the two parties “will be invited to attend meetings in Addis Ababa from 17th to 23rd January.” “During that week,” the statement added, “there will be concurrent meetings concerning the issues of oil and of arrears. There will also be a meeting on banking and trade payments during this period.” Sudan says its southern neighbor Sudan has not paid any fees since it gained independence in July, taking with it three quarters of Khartoum's oil production. On the other hand, South Sudan argues that the transportation fees demanded by Khartoum, US$32.2 per barrel, are too steep, saying it is ten times over the international standard. The AUHIP said that Sudan will send it a full list of the claims it intends to raise on the arrears issue. On the front of commercial oil negotiations, the panel said it might ask representatives of oil companies to attend the meetings to provide information and inputs. The inclusion of oil companies in the talks was proposed by South Sudan, according to its chief negotiator Pagan Amum. Amum said on Monday that the move would help in overcoming the “principle of discrimination” and give all parties a platform to follow discussions on tariffs and costs being put forward. “We feel that since discussions on the oil fees and tariffs are in the interest of the oil companies as well, the Government of South Sudan has suggested that oil companies be involved in the next round of the negotiations,” said Amum. The upcoming round of talks will be crucial in view of continued threats and the policy of brinkmanship adopted by both sides over the issue of oil. Amum last week said that Khartoum sent a letter to South Sudan's government warning that no vessel carrying Juba's crude oil will be permitted to leave Port Sudan unless US$32.2 per barrel is paid. (ST)