- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

JUBA, Sudan — North and south Sudan have agreed to establish a jointly patrolled demilitarized border zone between the two sides as the south prepares to declare independence in July, the African Union said Tuesday.

Such a buffer could lower the chances of an accidental north-south clash. But its implementation depends on the two sides reaching an agreement over the demarcation of the border, an issue that has long been contentious.

The deal also could be disrupted by other outstanding issues, such as the sharing of oil rights between north and south.

AU adviser Alex de Waal, who has facilitated negotiations on security issues between Sudan’s north and south regions, said the parties agreed Monday during talks in Ethiopia’s capital to form a common, demilitarized zone stretching across the 1,300-mile north-south border. It’s not yet known when the zone will go into effect.

The zone will stretch 6 miles north and south from the 1956 border, the tentative line drawn when Sudan became independent from Britain, Mr. de Waal said.

Mr. de Waal told the Associated Press by phone from Addis Ababa that discussions over a third-party military monitoring body - a U.N. peacekeeping force, for instance - were still to come.

Col. Philip Aguer, spokesman for the south’s army, said the southern military will support the agreement “100 percent” if both sides can agree where the actual border is.

“To me that is a good agreement, but the issue now is where is the border,” he said.

North and south Sudan fought two civil wars off and on over more than four decades before signing a 2005 peace deal. But the sides’ relations took a nosedive earlier this month when the northern Sudanese army invaded and seized the disputed border town of Abyei.

The military action came after months of building tensions between the two armies in Abyei, a fertile, oil-producing border zone that both the north and south claim.

It sent an estimated 80,000 residents of the area running for their lives, fleeing into villages and towns in the southern state of Warrap, which now is experiencing what Western diplomats and U.N. humanitarian officials have called a perfect storm of factors resulting in food, fuel, and shelter shortages.

Mr. de Waal said the agreement to establish a demilitarized border zone provides a model for solving the Abyei crisis.

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