The South Sudan government has welcomed the decision by the government of neighbouring Sudan to allow free movement of people and goods between the two countries, five years after Sudanese authorities restricted the movement, forcing retail traders to engage in limited smuggling business practices.
President Omer Hassan al-Bashir on Wednesday issued a directive, instructing that the borders be reopened between Sudan and South Sudan, which separated and formed its independent state in 2011.
This came after South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir, issued a statement last week asking his army units of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), to pull back to 5 miles (8 km) from the borderline with the Sudan, asserting that his government had decided to improve relations with Sudan in the interest of peace and stability between the two countries.
The move to reopen the borders was a major step toward improving relations between the neighbouring countries whose diplomatic relations have been strained over post secession issues as well as differences over oil charges and transit fees.
The new nation took much of what was known as the Sudan’s oil reserves before the split in 2011 but later agreed to pay the north a fee to access international markets with her oil through its pipelines. Bashir has agreed to consider cutting those fees.
Both sides have also battled over unresolved border disputes, including control of another large oil field.
But South Sudanese foreign affairs and international cooperation minister said that relations between the two countries were improving for the benefit of the two nations.
Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said he hoped the two countries would work together to enjoy the importance of close ‘political, economic, social, cultural, administrative and personal ties’.
“Economically, South Sudan is extremely important to Sudan. It is by far the Sudan’s main trading partner, in terms of exports. There are also common issues which bind us together that we cannot ignore no matter political or administrative issues that may come up from time to time,” said Minister Benjamin.
South Sudanese government accused Sudan of backing anti-government rebels while Sudan alleged that the young country supported separate rebellions in Darfur region, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
Civil war broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing into Sudan.