Will Bashir's visit help close the divide between the Sudans?
On Friday Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir visited South Sudan for the first time since the two countries split in 2011. Experts say it's a sign that relations between the Sudans are finally stabilizing.
Arriving in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Bashir appeared to affirm that pledge, saying the two countries are ripe for peace, and ordering all Sudan’s borders opened to “South Sudan brothers," according to media reports.
Since Sudan split on July 9, 2011, the two former adversaries – who fought a 21-year civil war – have been trapped in continued bitter disputes over oil exports, border lines, and commercial rights in business and industry.
Last year the two nations reached the brink of war during a dispute over Hegling, a major oil producing area along one border.
In Juba today South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said the two heads of states agreed to continue implementing cooperation agreements signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in September last year, according to the Sudan Catholic Radio Network. The agreements, of which there are nine, are efforts to peacefully resolve a host of issues that spilled over from the secession of the South.
The two leaders also plan to address territorial conflicts along their volatile 1,200-mile common border, where thousands have been displaced in the last two years.
Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan's information minister, described the visit as a sign that Juba and Khartoum are geared towards warmer relations after months of tension caused by the unresolved issues.
“This is a sign that the two countries have realized they need each other," says Fred Nyabera, a Nairobi-based regional peace building and conflict resolution expert who was involved in Sudanese peace process. "The cuttings of oil export, for example, have not benefited either side. I think such visit illustrates normalizing of the situation. I think this is good for the two countries,”
“We hope they can build trust,” says Joseph Atem Bul, a Sudanese student in Nairobi, indicating that remains the biggest obstacle between two sides.
Ahead of the visit security was tightened in Juba, with some roads being closed and movement on some streets restricted.
Schools, government institutions, shops, international organizations, and offices were closed to allow throngs to congregate and cheer Bashir, though he received a mixed welcome as many South Sudanese hold him responsible for the deaths of family during the civil war.
The last time Bashir set foot in South Sudan was in 2011 during the nation's declaration of independence.