By Aaron Maasho and Hereward Holland
ADDIS ABABA/JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan will be able to resume oil production within three weeks and export no more than a week after that, the oil minister said on Tuesday, after the country reached deals on border security with Sudan on Friday.
Landlocked South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in July 2011, closed off its 350,000 barrel-per-day output in January last year in a dispute with Khartoum over how much it should pay to send the oil through Sudanese pipelines to the Red Sea.
Both countries depend heavily on oil for the foreign currency they need to import food and fuel, but disputes over the border and other issues left over from partition have prevented them resuming exports.
Sudan's chief negotiator, Idris Mohammed Abdel Gadir, signed a deal with his South Sudanese counterpart Pagan Amum in the early hours of Tuesday setting out a timeline for the resumption of oil exports after four days of African Union-brokered talks in Addis Ababa.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating between the two sides, told reporters they had agreed to order oil companies to restart production within two weeks of "D-Day", given as Sunday, March 10.
A copy of the implementation timeline obtained by Reuters confirmed the date. "Resumption of production shall take place as soon as technically feasible," it said.
Speaking to reporters after returning from Addis Ababa, South Sudan's Petroleum and Mining Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said there were few technical barriers to resuming oil output.
"We assume that we will resume as soon as possible," he said, adding it would not take more than three weeks to be able to resume output and no more than 28 days for it to reach the export terminal in Port Sudan.
The two former civil war enemies agreed at the talks in the Ethiopian capital on Friday to order the withdrawal of their troops from a demilitarized border zone within a week to ease tensions and open the way to resuming oil exports.
South Sudan's president has already given that order, an army spokesman said on Monday.
SETTING UP A BUFFER ZONE
The timetable said the redeployment of forces from the border zone should be complete by April 5, and that the two countries should set up a joint committee by March 17 for demarcating the boundary.
However, it did not set a date for determining the final status of Abyei, a disputed territory that has been a perennial source of tension between the two sides. An administration and council for the area would be set up by March 17, it said.
Interior ministers from both countries also planned to meet on March 17 to discuss ways of opening up border crossings and easing the movement of citizens between the two countries, Sudan's state news agency SUNA reported.
South Sudan accused Khartoum of blocking trade across the roughly 2,000-km (1,250-mile) border ahead of partition. The timeline said the two should immediately start managing a "soft border" that would facilitate movement of people, goods and services.
After teetering on the brink of full-scale conflict in April during the worst border clashes since their split, the two countries agreed in September to set up the buffer zone but did not implement it.
Some two million people died in Sudan's decades-long north-south civil war, which ended with a 2005 peace deal that paved the way for the South's secession.
(Writing by Alexander Dziadosz in Cairo; editing by Jon Hemming and James Jukwey)
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