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Africa

Could al-Bashir profit from South Sudan's ceasefire?

media South Sudan President Salva Kiir (L), Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir (C) and South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar hold hands after signing a peace agreement aimed to end a war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, in Khartoum, Sudan June REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Oil production in South Sudan is set to resume under the terms of a new ceasefire agreed to end the country's five-year conflict. But Khartoum's role in helping Juba revive energy production has proved controversial.

Under the framework of the Khartoum Declaration, South Sudan will collaborate with Sudan in rehabilitating oilfield blocks in the Unity region, damaged by four-and-a-half years of war.

Before the conflict erupted in 2013, oil revenues were peaking at around 350,000 barrels a day according to the World Bank. Now they've plummeted to just 120,000, a substantial amount for a country which relies on oil for 98% of its revenues.

The irony here is that Sudan, which has fought South Sudan in the past over the contested oil-rich enclave of Abyei, is now stepping in to help its neighbour plug the supply gap.

“I think that [Sudanese President Omar] al-Bashir at this acute time seems to want a huge amount of peace dividends, if any come from South Sudan, to help bolster his country and particularly focusing on the oil," Joseph Ochieno, an African affairs commentator told RFI by phone from London.

The Sudanese president oversaw the signing of Wednesday's ceasefire between his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar.

It is an unlikely role for a leader seldom in the driving seat.

"He’s quite happy to be seen, ironically you can imagine, as the new guy who is able to bring peace," continues Ochieno.

The oil proceeds that should follow the ceasefire will leave Omar al-Bashir "smiling at the bank", he reckons.

This latest push for peace in South Sudan is part of a fresh bid launched by east African leaders and the two warring parties to avert UN sanctions.

Can ceasefire hold?

Yet doubts remain about whether it will last.

"There are very many ceasefires that have been signed and serious violations have been committed by the warring parties in South Sudan," Peter Gai Manyoun, who works with the Africa Centre for Transitional Justice in Nairobi, told RFI.

"The current ceasefire signed in Khartoum is no different from the others," he says.

It is set to go into effect on 30 June and will be supervised by members of the African Union and the east African regional bloc Igad, who are authorised to "deploy the necessary forces" if need be.

However Igad's role is also contested.

"The Igad member countries themselves can’t agree on one point," comments Manyoun. "They differ based on their own interests. So you find that today they’re supporting so and so and tomorrow like that, so it’s becoming like a business. The South Sudan crisis is becoming a business in the region."

Three million refugees

It is a business also in terms of refugees.

Sudan currently hosts two million displaced people from South Sudan, while Uganda has 1.2 million, meaning that one third of South Sudan's population is currently living in neighbouring countries as refugees.

"Beyond the economics, clearly it's in the interests of all the countries in the region that South Sudan settles peacefully," says Ochieno.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and some four million are displaced.

"Our key concern is to see the violence end," Chris Trott, the UK Special Representative for Sudan and South Sudan told RFI.

"This will require independent monitoring and consequences for those who violate the agreement signed last December," he says.

For his part, Ochieno questions the wisdom of excluding the minor parties from the ceasefire.

"There are people who would have broken away from Riek Machar. I think justifiably they needed to have been part of this process, so are the others who broke away from Salva Kiir. And I think that was a bit of an oversight."

Another oversight was not guaranteeing Riek Machar a place in any future power- sharing government, Ochieno believes.

The Khartoum talks began on Monday and are scheduled to last for two weeks, with further rounds of negotiations planned in Nairobi and Addis Ababa.

But analysts warn that, unless the two rivals can sit down at the same table as membrs of the same government, peace may never be achieved.

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