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May 28, 2017

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Two Sudans sign deals to restart oil, secure border

ADDIS ABABA -- The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan signed deals on Thursday to secure their shared border and boost trade, paving the way for the resumption of oil exports but stopping short of ending other disputes remaining after the South's secession.

The border deal, reached after three weeks of negotiations in Ethiopia, will throw both ailing economies a lifeline and prevent, for now, a resumption of the fighting that broke out along the frontier in April and came close to war.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir signed agreements to boost cooperation and trade to applause in a packed room in a five-star hotel in Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union.

But both sides, which have a history of signing and then not implementing deals, failed to agree on who owned the central Abyei region and other contested areas.

AU mediator Thabo Mbeki acknowledged he had failed to broker a settlement on those disputes that were left unresolved when the South declared independence in July 2011, under a peace agreement that ended decades of civil war.

"We are convinced that what has happened, which culminated in signing of the agreements, constitutes a giant step forward for both countries," Mbeki said at the signing ceremony.

Both countries' defense ministers signed another deal to set up a demilitarized buffer zone along the joint border.

The deal will allow landlocked South Sudan to resume oil exports though Sudan, a resolution which will provide both economies with dollars. The South had shut down its output of 350,000 barrels a day in January after the countries argued about fees.

Bashir said it was a "historic moment for building peace" between the former civil war foes. "We will continue talking with the same spirit to solve the other problems such as Abyei and the disputed borders," he told the audience.

In the streets of Juba and Khartoum, people said they hoped the oil deal would end their economic woes. "I'm excited. As I go over the news I feel I am impressed because I know our economy is going to come back to us, said Juba-based priest Otenis Mac.

"When oil will flow again it will help the economy," said Muhammad Muafat, a civil servant in Khartoum.

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