ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — South Sudan will restart pumping oil in two weeks and will export it as soon as it's technically possible, the African Union said Tuesday, in a deal to restart an oil industry that has been hamstrung by lingering tensions between the two Sudans.
The agreement was signed by South Sudan and Sudan on Tuesday, according to the African Union.
South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan in 2011, pumps its oil through pipelines that run through the north. In early 2012 South Sudan charged that Sudan was stealing its oil and then shut down its oil industry, a decision that crippled the government budgets of both countries.
Since their 2011 division there has been fighting between the two countries, and threats to resume hostilities. International mediators have been working to keep the peace and get the sides to agree on financial terms to restart the flow of oil.
South Sudan's Petroleum and Mining Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau told reporters in Juba after returning from Ethiopia on Tuesday that South Sudan's oil will reach the international market within four weeks.
Officials from the two Sudans on Tuesday set a timetable to implement several oil-related agreements, including one for resuming oil exports, the African Union said. Accordingly, in the next two weeks the South Sudanese government will instruct oil companies to resume oil production while Sudan readies the facilities to process and transport crude.
The oil deal is the result of months of on-and-off negotiations between the north and the south under the mediation of former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Last September, in a deal that eased tensions, the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan agreed on multiple economic and security agreements, including demilitarizing the border and resuming South Sudan's oil exports.
Subsequent talks to implement the deals remained unsuccessful for months until Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn brought the two leaders to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in January and urged them to speedily resolve their disagreements.
Defense ministers from Sudan and South Sudan last Friday agreed on a timetable to pull back their troops to pave way for the establishment of a demilitarized zone. Both sides are expected to complete their troops' withdrawal by March 15, although they are still at odds over disputed areas including the contested Abyei region.
A senior South Sudanese military official said late Monday that South Sudan President Salva Kiir has ordered the army to start withdrawing from disputed border areas. Army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said that within four days the South Sudanese army would "be able to pack all their equipment and prepare to start to the designated area." The South Sudanese army is expected to withdraw from positions in its Upper Nile, Northern Bahar al Ghazal and Unity states near the disputed border with Sudan.
But Aguer warned the Sudanese military would defend the lives and property of South Sudanese if Sudan invades the country. South Sudan has frequently accused Sudan of incursions into its territory as well as conducting aerial bombardments. Sudan has denied these accusations, saying it targets rebels who operate near the border with South Sudan.
"In case of violation the SPLA will continue doing its usual role to protect the territory and integrity of South Sudan," Aguer said. "So it is not changing anything. It only gives more room for diplomacy."
Charlton Doki contributed to this report from Juba, South Sudan