KHARTOUM (Reuters) - South Sudan’s first ambassador to Sudan urged the countries to put their conflicts behind them and get back to trading as he took up his post on Wednesday, in the latest sign of thawing relations between the neighbors.
South Sudan split away from Sudan last year under a 2005 peace deal. The countries agreed to exchange ambassadors and patch up their differences but within months came close to war over lingering disputes about oil rights, the position of their border and a string of other issues.
Tensions eased when both sides, under pressure from the United Nations and the African Union, agreed to return to negotiations.
Southern ambassador Mayan Dut Wol arrived in Khartoum in August and presented his credentials to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Wednesday.
“The political conflicts have greatly impacted both economies,” Wol told reporters at South Sudan’s new embassy in Khartoum’s upmarket Riyadh district.
“We want to boost bilateral trade, joint agricultural projects and open customs points,” he added.
Wol said Bashir had promised to help speed up the return of thousands of southerners still trapped in legal limbo on the northern side of the border.
Many were left without any valid papers after a deadline passed for them to apply for Sudanese citizenship.
Overwhelmed with the task of building up a state from scratch, Juba was slow to set up a diplomatic corps and open an embassy in Khartoum that could issue the passports needed to get residency permits.
“The president said he would order to open the borders so they can return,” said Wol, who was a state minister in Sudan’s national government before the country split last year.
Direct flights between Khartoum and Juba would resume by mid-September, he said. Flights were suspended in April when tensions escalated.
Last month, the neighbors reached an interim deal to restart southern oil exports after Juba had shut down its output of roughly 350,000 barrels a day in January as part of a dispute over export fees.
Sudan wants to reach a deal to set up a demilitarized border zone before oil exports can resume. Khartoum also demands guarantees that South Sudan will stop supporting rebels in Sudan’s borderlands, an accusation dismissed by Juba.
Sudan’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it had identified an ambassador to send to South Sudan, but he still had to fly to the southern capital Juba to present his credentials.
Southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence in a referendum last year agreed under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens