September 25, 2007 / 4:16 PM / 12 years ago

Documents for Sudan's disputed border lost

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Experts trying to demarcate Sudan’s north-south border face the mammoth task of locating and restoring missing and damaged documents central to the implementation of a peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

Many of Sudan’s richest oil fields lie along the disputed border, which will also need to be drawn ahead of elections by the end of 2009 and a southern referendum on secession by 2011.

Southerners accuse the government in Khartoum of moving the border further south as oil and diamonds were discovered, and say the government is stalling on implementing the peace deal.

The ruling party has denied the accusations and said progress on the peace deal was going well.

But experts say the dispute over Sudan’s north-south border is among the outstanding issues that threaten to derail the hard-won 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest civil war.

Douglas Johnson, a Sudan expert contracted by the southern government to research the frontier, said documents are needed to settle the dispute because there is no map of the boundary at Sudan’s independence in 1956.

“(We need) local government documents saying how boundaries were being used, with landmarks,” said Johnson, who added oral testimonies will be crucial.

Many of those documents, however, have been destroyed by Sudan’s blasting heat, termites, frequent flooding, fire and carelessness and it remains unclear if vital papers lie amongst unsorted remnants.

In one case a central archive was taken apart to make way for army housing and some of its parts were found sitting in beer crates in a local girl’s school.

“Some of these documents speak of boundaries between northern and southern provinces. If they were there they would be useful,” John Luk, south Sudan’s culture minister, said.

“If those files are present we could easily get what boundaries have been defined or if there were any amendments or changes,” said Luk on Tuesday.

Experts say it will take months to trawl through the remaining papers to retrieve useful information because so many of the documents have been lost or damaged.

“Some archives were transferred to a basement and they were just left there. It actually flooded at one point,” said Luk. “You go there and get mud.”

At a public lecture on the boundary, Johnson showed slides of archive rooms full of unsorted papers lying haphazardly on the floor.

He said that although maps were important guides, they are inconclusive and do not provide needed details.

“We don’t know if all of these apparent boundaries were ever surveyed on the ground,” said Johnson.

Johnson also highlighted some six areas where he believes the line as it currently stands should be moved in order to comply with the 1956 agreement.

While some changes are clearly recorded at least two are potentially contentious including an area containing some of Sudan’s oil wells.

Sudan produces 500,000 barrels per day of crude. The discovery of oil fuelled the conflict, Africa’s longest, which has raged on and off since 1955.

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