ADDIS ABABA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan and South Sudan agreed on Tuesday to open 10 crossings along their joint border to boost travel and trade after a thaw in relations between two sides that had come close to war.
Highlighting the volatile situation along the 2,000-km (1,200-mile) boundary, Sudan’s army and rebels fought a battle in a state bordering South Sudan.
Sudan closed the border after South Sudan’s secession in 2011 - hitting traders and communities on both sides.
Almost a year after the split, border skirmishes brought both countries close to full-blown war over unresolved disputes about oil, territory and other issues.
But the African neighbors agreed last month to resume cross-border oil flows, following talks brokered by the African Union.
Both sides said they would open 10 road, rail and Nile river crossing, eight of them immediately, in fresh AU talks in Ethiopia on Tuesday.
One crossing will link South Sudan’s Unity state with Heglig, home to an oilfield vital to Sudan’s economy which South Sudan’s army briefly occupied last year.
Sudan’s army and a rebel group said on Tuesday they had fought in southern Darfur, a region bordering South Sudan, the scene of a decade-long insurgency by non-Arab tribes.
Army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid told state news agency SUNA his forces had killed several rebels, among them three commanders, and destroyed 15 of their cars during a five-hour battle. A number of soldiers were also killed, he said.
A spokesman for a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army said it had beaten the army and killed more than 70 soldiers.
Events in Darfur are hard to verify due to severe travel restrictions for foreign journalists.
Sudan has in the past accused South Sudan of backing rebels in Darfur and two border states, claims denied by Juba.
Landlocked South Sudan shut down its 350,000 barrel-per-day crude output in January last year in a row over how much it should pay to send the oil through Sudan to the Red Sea.
The agreement to resume oil flows gave a lifeline to both countries’ struggling economies which rely on foreign currency from oil sales and pipeline fees to import food and fuel.
Sudan expects the first oil cargo from South Sudan to arrive next week, state media said on Monday.
South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in July 2011 under a 2005 peace deal which ended one of Africa’s longest civil wars. The two remain at loggerheads over control of disputed territories such as the border region of Abyei.
Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Robin Pomeroy