Bashir to make first visit to South Sudan since independence

KHARTOUM/JUBA Sat Mar 30, 2013 8:09am EDT

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir looks on during the opening of the Arab League summit in Doha March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir looks on during the opening of the Arab League summit in Doha March 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah

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KHARTOUM/JUBA (Reuters) - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir will visit his long-time foe South Sudan for the first time in almost two years next week, officials said on Friday, cementing new deals on oil and border security between the two countries.

The African neighbors agreed this month to resume cross-border oil flows and defuse tensions that have plagued them since South Sudan seceded in July 2011 following an agreement which ended decades of civil war.

Bashir had originally planned to visit Juba a year ago but canceled the trip when border skirmishes between the countries' armies in April brought them close to a full-blown conflict.

He had now accepted an invitation from his southern counterpart Salva Kiir to visit South Sudan's capital Juba next week, Bashir's spokesman Imad Said told Reuters. He gave no date.

Bashir last visited Juba on July 9, 2011 to attend the ceremony marking South Sudan's separation.

The two countries went their separate ways without resolving a long list of disputes over the ownership of disputed territory, the legal status of each others' citizens and how much the landlocked south should pay to transport its oil through Sudan.

Juba shut down its entire oil output of 350,000 barrels a day in January 2012 at the height of the dispute over pipeline fees - a closure that had a devastating effect on both struggling economies.

Under the new deals, both sides agreed to restart the oil flow, grant their citizens free residency in the other country, boost border trade and set up a close cooperation between their central banks.

They also withdrew their troops from their shared border as agreed in a deal brokered by the African Union in September.

Both sides still need to decide on who owns Abyei and other disputed regions.

Around two million died in the decades-long civil war between Khartoum and Sudan's south, fueled by religion, oil, ethnicity and ideology. It ended a 2005 peace deal that paved the way for the southern secession.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Moses Misuk in Juba; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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