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Sudan's Bashir visits South Sudan as tensions ease

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses a new session of parliament, on April 1, 2013
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses a new session of parliament, on April 1, 2013, in the capital Khartoum. Bashir arrived in South Sudan Friday for the first time since his 2011 visit for the country's independence, a sign of easing tensions afte

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir arrived in South Sudan Friday for the first time since his 2011 visit for the country's independence, a sign of easing tensions after bloody border battles last year.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, Bashir's former civil war foe and an ex-rebel commander, welcomed his counterpart at Juba airport as a military band struck up their respective national anthems.

Bashir was accompanied by several high-ranking officials, including Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein, Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed, Oil Minister Awad Ahmad al-Jaz and intelligence chief General Mohamed Atta al-Moula, according to Sudan's official news agency SUNA.

Bashir's visit "will be good for the future of the two countries", South Sudanese Information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said before Bashir's plane touched down.

"There should be peace between the two countries," he said.

"We are expecting good news from this visit," Ahmed Bilal Osman, Sudan's information minister, told SUNA.

He said the trip "comes at a propitious political time after signing the cooperation agreements in Addis Ababa" and that the problems between the two states "are on the way to being solved".

"The visit will break the barriers of lack of confidence and express good political will to implement what has been agreed.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir at an African Union meeting on January 27, 2013 in Addis Ababa
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends the 20th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government (OSOA) during an African Union meeting on January 27, 2013 in Addis Ababa.

"Our brothers in South Sudan will only hear good words from us. We are working to narrow the area of difference and to widen the area of agreement, to prevent anything negative in the relation between both sides."

The two nations battled over their un-demarcated border one year ago, with Khartoum's warplanes bombing the South, and Juba sending troops deep into disputed areas to battle Sudanese soldiers.

The fighting raised fears of wider war with intermittent clashes continuing for several months, but international pressure reined the two sides into an uneasy standoff.

At talks in Addis Ababa in March, Sudan and South Sudan finally settled on detailed timetables to improve relations by resuming the oil flows and implementing eight other key pacts including one for a demilitarised border buffer zone.

Security was tight in Juba with the streets of the southern capital lined with security forces who had started deploying on Thursday. The only vehicles on the road were official convoys and the few pedestrians moving around were subject to constant security checks.

From the airport the two leaders will head to state house for talks, officials said.

SUNA reported Thursday that Bashir and Kiir would discuss bilateral relations and how to move forward in a jutually beneficial way.

Oil employees walk near the first well to restart production in the Thar Jath field in Unity state on April 6, 2013
Oil mining employees walk near the first well to restart production in the Thar Jath field in Unity state on April 6, 2013.

Bashir, who fought a 1983-2005 civil war against then southern rebels -- now the official South Sudanese army -- attended the July 9 2011 declaration of independence in Juba, when the impoverished but oil rich land became the world's newest nation.

He left just hours after independence was declared.

But independence left key issues unresolved, including how much the South should pay for shipping its oil through Sudanese pipelines for export.

South Sudan stopped all of its crude production early last year, cutting off most of its revenue after accusing Khartoum of theft.

The deals reached had remained dormant after they were signed in September as Khartoum pushed for guarantees that South Sudan would no longer back rebels fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Since timetables were agreed, official delegations from the two countries have held a series of meetings to begin implementing the pacts.

Kiir telephoned Bashir after the Addis timetables were reached, inviting him for a visit. Bashir agreed but no date had been confirmed until Tuesday.

Last Saturday, South Sudan held a ceremony to restart oil production, which official Sudanese media said would be shipped again from Port Sudan in the north by the end of May.

The oil shutdown cost both impoverished nations billions of dollars. China was the biggest buyer of the oil.

South Sudan separated with roughly 75 percent of the 470,000 barrels per day of crude produced by the formerly unified country.

Refineries and export pipelines stayed under Khartoum's jurisdiction but the two countries could not agree on how much Juba should pay to use that infrastructure, including the Red Sea export terminal.

South Sudan said petroleum provided 98 percent of its revenue.

The Addis agreements, among other provisions, also call for the free flow of people and goods between the two nations.

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