Leaders of Sudan and South Sudan met late on Sunday to try reach a deal to end hostilities and restart oil exports, but there was still no breakthrough on a key security accord after two weeks of talks in Ethiopia, officials said.
South Sudan said it had expected Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart, Salva Kiir, to have reached a deal by yesterday, after a UN Security Council deadline was unofficially extended.
The armies of both nations fought for weeks in April along their unmarked and disputed border after a row escalated over how much South Sudan should pay to use northern oil pipelines.
Highlighting the deep mistrust between the neighbors, South Sudan accused Sudan of parachuting weapons at the weekend to rebels in the new African nation, which split off from its former civil war foe Khartoum in July last year.
South Sudan’s Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor said Kiir and al-Bashir were expected to have reached an agreement by yesterday.
“Tomorrow we will be finished. There will be a deal,” he told reporters on Sunday after the summit started, giving no details.
The presidents were chatting to each other as they left the hotel room where their meeting was held, with Kiir wearing his trademark cowboy hat and dark suit.
The two were set to meet again yesterday morning, offficials said.
Badr el-Din Abdallah, spokesman for the Sudanese delegation, earlier said there were still differences: “We have agreed on many topics, but there are still issues for which we don’t have a deal yet, specifically the security issue.”
The two countries had to reach a comprehensive peace deal by the weekend or risk incurring UN Security Council sanctions.
The UN deadline formally expired at midnight on Saturday, but the parties effectively have until the end of the African Union (AU)-led summit to reach an agreement.
Diplomats have been trying to mediate between the rivals, which have a history of signing and then not implementing deals. Both badly need the oil revenues at stake.
The two reached an interim deal last month to restart oil exports from landlocked South Sudan through Sudan to its Red Sea ports after Juba turned off wells in a row over export fees.
However, Sudan insists on first reaching a security accord.
On Saturday, Sudan raised hopes of a deal by conditionally accepting an AU map for a demilitarized border zone after objecting to it for months, but Abdallah said on Sunday the issue had not yet been resolved.
Juba has already accepted the AU map.
Al-Bashir first met Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Sunday and then, like Kiir, spent much of the day with his delegation.
South Sudan, where most follow Christianity and animism, seceded from the mainly Muslim north in July last year under a 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war.
Secession left a long list of issues unresolved such as marking the border, fees for southern oil and ending accusations of rebel support in each other’s territory.
Western and African officials had hoped for a broad peace accord, but several rounds of talks in Addis Ababa have brought no visible progress on settling the fate of five disputed border areas — this will probably be left to a future round or possible lengthy arbitration.
South Sudan accused Sudan of parachuting eight parcels of weapons and ammunition to forces of anti-government militia leader David Yau Yau in the country’s east on Friday and Saturday.