Africa

Sudanese leaders Bashir and Kiir commit to buffer zone

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (L) greets the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir in Addis Ababa on January 5, 2013.
Image caption South Sudan's Salva Kiir (right) was greeted by Ethiopia's prime minister as he arrived for talks

The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan have reaffirmed their commitment to setting up a buffer zone on their shared border and resuming oil exports.

African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki said both sides had agreed "unconditionally" to implement a deal first struck in September.

Presidents Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir of South Sudan smiled and shook hands, but made no comment.

The neighbours came close to war after the South's independence in 2011.

The talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, followed reports of renewed clashes on the disputed border.

African Union mediators will now lay out a timetable for the implementation of all outstanding agreements, according to an official document seen by the BBC.

This is expected to be in place by the end of next week, and if the timetable is respected, a demilitarised buffer zone between the two countries will be set up.

That would allow the resumption of oil exports from the south and of cross-border trade.

"They've... agreed that actions should be taken immediately - or maybe as soon as possible - to implement all the existing agreements unconditionally," Mr Mbeki said.

"The presidents have also agreed that... the necessary decisions are taken to create the safe demilitarised border zone."

BBC Sudan reporter James Copnall says there appears to have been some limited progress on the disputed Abyei region, including a commitment to set up a joint administration for the area, as well as on several other outstanding issues.

But he adds that in essence both leaders have simply agreed to implement deals they had already signed - and the fact that this is necessary gives an indication of just how bad the relationship is between the two Sudans.

The South shut down its own production a year ago as part of a row with Khartoum about how much it should pay to export its oil through Sudan.

The flashpoint region of Abyei is claimed by both sides. It lies on their border and is inhabited both by nomadic herdsmen who are loyal to Sudan and other groups who are closely linked to the South.

Tensions over oil and security brought the two sides to the brink of war last April.

At a meeting in September the buffer zone was agreed and South Sudan said it would resume the production of oil, but the deal was not implemented.

Both sides blamed the other for the lack of progress.

South Sudan, where people chiefly follow the Christian faith or traditional indigenous religions, gained independence in 2011 after more than two decades of civil war with the mainly Muslim north.

Both sides also accuse the other of supporting rebel groups on its territory.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.