Sudan, South Sudan to resume talks, don't want war

JUBA/KHARTOUM Fri Mar 30, 2012 9:31pm BST

Pagan Amum, South Sudan top negotiator in the oil dispute talks with Khartoum speaks during a news conference in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Pagan Amum, South Sudan top negotiator in the oil dispute talks with Khartoum speaks during a news conference in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa January 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Noor Khamis

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JUBA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan and South Sudan are expected to resume talks on Saturday, with leaders of the former civil war foes playing down the risks of a war after the most violent border clashes since the country split in two.

The neighbours clashed for two days this week in the disputed oil-rich border region, in the worst direct fighting since South Sudan became independent in July under a 2005 peace deal with Khartoum that ended decades of civil war.

The United Nations and the United States have warned the clashes could reignite war between the mainly Muslim north and the South, where most follow Christian and traditional beliefs.

But despite the violence and many bellicose comments, leaders of the two countries say they are committed to peace.

"As a newborn country we want peace with our neighbour to be able to focus our energies on nation-building," said Pagan Amum, South Sudan's top negotiator.

"We've had enough of war," Amum said, echoing conciliatory comments by Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir who said Khartoum wanted to live peacefully with the South.

Struggling with economic crisis, neither government can afford a full-scale war at a time when people in both countries are war weary, diplomats say.

But analysts do not see a breakthrough at the Addis Ababa talks after Bashir called off an April 3 summit with his southern counterpart Salva Kiir.

"I'm not sure there will be any substantive progress immediately because of the deep lack of trust between the two countries," said Sara Pantuliano from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Talks, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, are expected to focus on border security, leaving aside oil payments - a key issue to both cash-strapped governments.

DEEP MISTRUST BUT NO WAR

Positions are wide apart in the oil row with Khartoum demanding $36 a barrel as transit fee while Juba has offered $1.

Juba inherited three quarters of Sudan's output but failed to agree how much it should pay to export crude through Sudan.

In January, Sudan said it was taking southern oil in lieu of what it called unpaid transit fees, causing Juba to turn off the oil taps and deprive itself of 98 percent of state revenues.

The deep mistrust on both sides will make it hard to reach an agreement soon.

Harry Verhoeven, Sudan academic at Oxford University, said some radicals in the army and Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) may have pushed the government to seek limited military confrontation this week to show toughness with Juba.

"The...regime has been very divided for the past 18 months between different camps, and one of them believes...that confrontation is the right way to deal with Juba," he said.

Khartoum denied it had conducted any air strikes and blamed South Sudan for the outbreak of violence by attacking the Heglig oil field on the Sudanese side of the border.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Editing by Ron Askew)

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