South Sudan's parliament ratified a border and oil deal with Sudan intended to settle issues that brought the countries close to resuming their two-decade civil war and allow the South to revive its vital crude oil exports. The deal, which Sudan's parliament is still debating, defuses some of the unresolved issues left over from Sudan's division last year, although much remains to be definitively negotiated, including the demarcation of the volatile frontier.
The agreement, ratified by an overwhelming majority, includes setting up a 10-km demilitarized zone along the border and in certain contested territories, an issue that has already triggered protests from southern border communities who fear losing their homelands to Sudan. While the protests are unlikely to derail the deal, they show the difficulties both sides will face in reaching full, long-term agreements on contested areas and other issues.
On Monday, around 500 protesters from the Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity border states marched to parliament with a petition against the agreement, singing and waving banners. Some chanted, "No, no, Mile 14. No, no, Mile 14" in reference to a contested strip of land 14 miles across that will be demilitarized. One cardboard banner read: "Our cradle land is not for stealing. Peace between Sudans."
Some of the border disputes concern areas that produce oil, which both countries' economies depend on. A dispute over the transit fees that landlocked South Sudan must pay to get its oil output to Port Sudan on the Red Sea led the South to shut down its entire 350,000 barrel per day crude production, the mainstay of its economy, for nine months. Officials say it will take between three and 12 months to get the production that both countries need to avoid economic collapse flowing again.
South Sudan seceded in July last year after voting overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum promised by a peace deal that ended the civil war in 2005. The two countries have agreed to recognize the administrative borders used by the British colonial rulers at independence in 1956, but the exact position of this line is contested.
Chan Dut, walking with Monday's protesters, said the governments should have consulted local communities on both sides of the border before signing their accord on buffer zones. "We don't agree with what has been signed," he said as the crowd sang "We don't have to give up our land", an old song from the civil war.
Mile 14 runs parallel to the south bank of the River Kiir, known as Bahr al Arab in the north. The waterway formed a natural boundary between the southern Dinka Malual tribe and the northern Rizeigat tribe. British colonial administrators moved the boundary southwards to allow the Rizeigat hunting and grazing rights south of the river. In parliament, 189 of the 204 lawmakers present backed the deal.
The cooperation agreement says the joint border demarcation process must begin 60 days after the deal is ratified, and the frontier must be drawn three months after that. Kiir told parliament on Monday he would not cede any southern territory to Sudan. "Now people are demonstrating that their land has been given away, but I don't think the negotiating team or myself can give any piece of land to anybody," he said. "We are committed to defining borders based on legal and historical facts ... we have agreed this border should not be defined by war or propaganda."