South Sudan sees northern border zone within a month

By Carl Odera

JUBA, Jan 7 (Reuters) - South Sudan hopes to establish a
demilitarized zone along its border with arch-rival Sudan within
a month, paving the way for vital oil exports to resume, a
southern official said on Monday.

Sudan leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudan's Salva
Kiir met in Ethiopia at the weekend to try to quell tensions
that have rumbled since a flare-up of violence along the
disputed border in April last year, the worst since the South
seceded in 2011.

South Sudan became independent in July 2011 under a 2005
peace agreement which ended decades of civil war but the
neighbours have yet to resolve a long list of disputes.

The southern government in Juba shut down its entire oil
output of 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) a year ago after failing
to agree on an export fee with the north.

It had hoped to be producing 230,000 bpd by December after
agreeing in September to set up a buffer zone along the 2,000
kilometre (1,200 miles) border. But neither side has withdrawn
its army from the frontier.

Both economies desperately need the oil to flow again from
the fields in South Sudan through the north to a Red Sea
terminal and onward to foreign markets.

South Sudan's chief negotiator Pagan Amum said Juba and
Khartoum had agreed to start establishing the buffer zone and
another round of talks was set for Saturday in the Ethiopian
capital Addis Ababa.

"So I am very hopeful that the border implementation will be
completed within the next 20 to 30 days," Amum told reporters in
the southern capital.

He said Ethiopian monitors supposed to patrol the border
with soldiers from both sides were waiting to be deployed after
finishing their training.

South Sudan's oil minister said last week that crude would
need two months to reach the Red Sea terminal after production
resumes, suggesting oil exports could hit markets by mid-April
if the buffer zone is operational by mid-February.

Amum blamed Sudan for the delay in securing the border and
said Khartoum might decide to block the plan by making new
demands. Sudan denies it is responsible for the delay.

"We will be waiting to see on the 13th ... whether they will
now allow the oil to flow and the other agreements implemented
or they will come up with new conditionalities as usual," he

Diplomats say the plan is complicated by the presence north
of the border of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation
Movement-North (SPLM-North), which wants to topple Bashir.

Khartoum say Juba supports the SPLM-North. Juba denies that
and says Sudan is backing militias on its territory.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)