“WE NEED PEACE”
In the ramshackle capital Juba, where main roads were closed and festooned with the flags of both countries, residents said they hoped Bashir’s visit would finally bring peace.
“We need to live in harmony. We need peace between Sudan and South Sudan,” said 22-year-old engineering student Robert Mori.
Edmund Yakani, head of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), which promotes civil society values, said Bashir’s presence showed he wanted peace.
South Sudan, the world’s newest state, shut down its 350,000-barrel-a-day oil output in January 2012 at the height of a pipeline fee dispute, with devastating effect on both struggling economies.
The two sides subsequently agreed to restart oil shipments, grant each others’ citizens residency, increase border trade and encourage close cooperation between their central banks.
Last week, South Sudan re-launched crude production with the first oil cargo expected to reach Sudan’s Red Sea export terminal at Port Sudan by the end of May.
Both nations withdrew troops from border areas as agreed in an African Union-brokered deal in September. But they took until March to set up the demilitarized border zone, due to mistrust.
But even as Bashir’s visit raised hopes of eased tension on Sudan’s southern frontier, conflict has flared up again in its western region of Darfur, forcing some 50,000 Sudanese to flee into neighboring Chad over the past week.
Fighting has ravaged Darfur since 2003 when mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms against Sudan’s Arab-led government, accusing it of politically and economically marginalizing the region.
The violence has fallen off from its peak in 2003 and 2004, but a fresh surge has forced more than 130,000 people to flee their homes this year, according to the United Nations.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Michael Roddy)