The negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan on oil are set to start on Saturday, a 24-hour delay from the original schedule.
Sources in Khartoum said that the head of the Sudanese delegation Idriss Mohamed Abdel-Gadir will leave to Addis Ababa in the early morning hours.
It is not clear why the talks were postponed. The two countries nonetheless held a meeting today to discuss security issues pertaining to the opening of borders to facilitate the flow of trade.
Diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa said that Sudan objected to Juba sending junior officials to the meeting which almost led to the collapse of talks. However, the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) managed to convince the two sides to start discussing the security items.
South Sudan took three quarters of Sudan’s oil when it gained independence, but all pipeline and export facilities are controlled by the north. Last month, the South halted oil production after Juba accused Khartoum of stealing $815 million worth of crude oil.
Khartoum says its confiscated part of the South’s oil to satisfy outstanding invoices that were not paid by Juba.
Sudan demands $32.02 per barrel transit fees but Juba is only willing to pay around $1 and says it would better allow the oil “remain underground” to benefit the next generation rather than to pay above normal international charges.
In London, the human rights watchdog Global Witness said that international intervention is needed to help the two countries seal an accord on the oil transit fees.
“The AU, China, the US, UK, and Norway in particular must engage at the highest diplomatic levels to broker a deal between the two sides,” Global Witness campaigner Dana Wilkins said in a statement released on Friday.
“The longer this dispute goes on and both economies continue to suffer, the more likely it is that the situation will escalate”.