Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat – As the January 2011 self-determination referendum approaches in Sudan, many outstanding issues have yet to be resolved. With the distinct possibility that the referendum may lead to the creation of a new international border line, the issue of North-South border demarcation is a high priority.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005, called for an accurate demarcation of the North-South Sudanese border, in accordance with how it was defined on the 1st of January 1956 when Sudan was formally granted independence. The Border Demarcation Committee has been tasked with carrying out this demarcation process. This is an 18-member group made up of representatives from both northern and southern Sudan, headed by Professor Abdullah El Sadiq. Amidst stalled negotiations, the process of defining this border has yet to be completed, and the ruling National Congress Party [NCP] has recently stated that the referendum cannot take place until border demarcation has been finalized.
Asharq al-Awsat spoke with Professor al-Sadiq in Khartoum, in order to determine his outlook on the current situation, and whether his committee will be able to complete their task before the referendum deadline. Professor al-Sadiq also spoke about the reports of disputes within the committee, which have served to hinder its progress.
The following is the full text from the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What stage has the Border Demarcation Committee reached with regards to demarcating the border between the north and the south?
[Professor El Sadiq] Border demarcation consists of three main phases: Firstly functional commissions must be created on both sides. Secondly, documents, records, and maps detailing border lines are gathered. Here, agreements, correspondence, and notes all form an important point of reference, because the border line may change from year to year in some parts, and sometimes, as a result of a constitutional decree or an order from the Administrative Secretary or the Governor General, the border line can be changed from one specified location to another. Following this is the final stage, namely analyzing and interpreting these documents and records. [During this stage], visits are conducted to Egypt, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Library of Congress), in order to gather external documents along with the collection of documents and records within Sudan. There is a tremendous amount of documentation and references, all of which needs to be sorted and classified, in order to determine the dividing line between the states, or regions, of the north and south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you completed the work in terms of the technical aspects and [analysis of] documentation, with regards to the border demarcation process?
[Professor El Sadiq] The Border Demarcation Committee and its subcommittees have been able to complete the required steps and thus begin drawing the map on the ground.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean that the Border Demarcation Committee has completed its work?
[Professor El Sadiq] I would say that we have fully completed the vital early stages of border demarcation, and what remains is the final stage, namely the placement of border markers on the ground, in the form of concrete columns, and this is what is left for us to do.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have there been any problems or differences of opinion with regards to implementing this final stage, placing border markers on the ground?
[Professor El Sadiq] Yes, a difference of opinion broke out between members of the committee about who would undertake the demarcation process, and who has the authority to designate such a task. Some people argue that the Committee’s powers allow them to do this, whilst others believe that the task of border demarcation should be entrusted to an independent third party. As the Chairman of this committee I tried to bring these two viewpoints or positions together, however when it was clear that it would be impossible to reach an agreement we took this issue to the Sudanese government which called for commitment to the operational regulations of the committee.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will it be possible to hold the referendum on schedule on 9 January 2011, regardless of whether the Border Demarcation Committee has completed its work or not?
[Professor El Sadiq] From a technical point of view, I would say: as a technician and engineer in the surveying process, the two administrative units must first be clearly defined [before the referendum], and therefore this must be preceded by border demarcation, in accordance with the rules.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the differences of opinion regarding documents and border reports within the Border Demarcation Committee itself?
[Professor El Sadiq] Firstly, they are merely differences of opinion on technical issues about border changes or demarcation…and 80 percent of these technical differences of opinion have been resolved, whilst 20 percent still remain a source of division.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us about the 20 percent of issues that remain a source of dispute?
[Professor El Sadiq] Firstly, differences of opinion are normal. We are talking about the demarcation of borders acquired over a hundred years on paper, between the North and South, and a 2000 km long border. Thus documents and reports vary in their interpretations of the border lines.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you give us particular cases or examples that members of the Border Demarcation Committee are failing to reach an agreement on with regards to their demarcation?
[Professor El Sadiq] Firstly, there are two regions in the White Nile and the Upper Nile, which are about 120 km long. There is also the border of the Kaka trade region, between the Upper Nile and Southern Kordofan, and a copper mining region south of Darfur and Kordofan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do these disputes exist because these regions, particularly the copper mining region, enjoy significant natural resources?
[Professor El Sadiq] The dispute relates to the interpretation of records and documents; this is a purely technical difference of opinion.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can be done to resolve a situation like this?
[Professor El Sadiq] We have presented a report to the Sudanese government, including a technical account of the differences of opinion that exist between members of the Committee (northerners and southerners) regarding the four regions. We left it to the government to make a political decision on this. We have not yet received a response, and it seems that this issue is currently being examined.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can you tell us about the oil-rich Abyei region?
[Professor El Sadiq] Abyei does not lie within our jurisdiction; there is a special commission for Abyei, and the Abyei problem is in demarcating its northern border. As for its southern border, there is no difference of opinion on this; our mission is to demarcate the borders between the northern regions and the southern regions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that it is possible that we will see a repeat of what happened between Ethiopia and Eritrea in Sudan should this referendum take place on schedule in January next year without the Border Demarcation Committee having completed its work?
[Professor El Sadiq] If the problem of the four regions is addressed or resolved, we could – shortly afterwards – begin the process of laying concrete markers on the ground in about eight weeks from now, which would see an accurate, technical border-line in place demarcating the boundary between the north and the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Border Demarcation Committee take water and mineral resources into consideration in its operations?
[Professor El Sadiq] In terms of demarcation, we are not interested in what is located above ground, or within it; we look at where a border is agreed to be located whether this divides a house or tree into two. Demarcating a border on the ground never includes looking at resources, buildings or anything else. For example, demarcating the border between Nigeria and Benin in Africa led to a house being split between the two countries, and in some cases, cities and streets.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this process of border demarcation between north and south Sudan, as stipulated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the first of its kind in Africa?
[Professor El Sadiq] The continent has never witnessed the demarcation of borders as a result of an impending referendum that could result in secession. We can recall that the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was established in May 1963 in Addis Ababa, stated in its charter its commitment to upholding the borders imposed by colonialism when colonial powers were in control of Africa, and this is in order to prevent border disputes. As for the African Union [AU], in 2007 it issued a resolution stipulating that all African countries must establish a national commission for border demarcation to cooperate with the African Union Border Programme. This concerns borders that were created during colonial rule in Africa. Some African countries have succeeded in forming these commissions, and subsequently demarcated their borders, such as Nigeria, Mozambique, Chad and Benin. This work is of the utmost importance with regards to border stability with neighboring countries, because it is based on the principles of proper demarcation, and law, which prevents conflict.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the state established a national commission for border demarcation in Sudan?
[Professor El Sadiq] This has not been established as of yet, although Sudan is in dire need for such a commission, considering that it is the largest country in Africa and shares borders with 9 different countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happens if the southern self-determination referendum results in southern secession?
[Professor El Sadiq] The consequences of this would see the two countries in the north and south share the longest border in Africa, which would be around 2,000 km; this would be longer than [Sudan’s] border with Ethiopia, which extends to 1,650 km.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the Sudanese government tried to interfere in the operation or jurisdiction of the Border Demarcation Committee?
[Professor El Sadiq] It is fair to say that the government has never interfered in the mission, operation, or jurisdiction of the Border Demarcation Committee. It has not issued any specific instructions on our operations, and when the Border Demarcation Committee took its [internal] dispute to the government, it called for this to be resolved according to the committee’s own operational framework. The government has also provided the necessary financing to enable the Border Demarcation Committee to carry out its operations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you received any assistance or aid from international or regional organizations?
[Professor El Sadiq] The Border Demarcation Committee appealed to the United Nations to provide logistical assistance, to enable the Committee to do what is required. The UN contributed by providing state of the art helicopters for the detection and imaging of the eastern side of the border, and also helped the Committee to organize workshops specifically on border demarcation. The UN has also provided us with satellite imagery detailing areas of the border line between the north and south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has the Border Demarcation Committee, as stipulated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, along with the referendum process and the right to self determination, carried out its task to the required standard?
[Professor El Sadiq] The committee has known, since it was first assigned this task, that it must perform this to the highest standards. The process of border demarcation requires effort and expertise to achieve the accuracy required, within several overlapping legal, administrative, technical, and community jurisdictions. Taking into account the extreme importance of drawing the border between the two states or regions, I think, to a large extent, we have succeeded in our mission, and I am optimistic that it will be possible to find political solutions to the technical problems and resolve any complications.