Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in his first visit to South Sudan since it split off in 2011 after decades of civil war, said yesterday his country wanted peace and normal relations with its neighbour.
The two agreed in March to resume pumping oil through pipelines from south to north and to ease the tensions which had threatened to reignite a war which killed more than two million people.
Diplomats hope Mr Bashir’s visit will help the two sides overcome deep mistrust and solve their remaining disputes over the ownership of Abyei and other contested border regions.
Mr Bashir, who cancelled a visit a year ago when border fighting almost flared into full-scale war, said in a speech in the southern capital that he had ordered Sudan’s borders with South Sudan to be opened for traffic.
“I have instructed Sudan’s authorities and civil society to open up to their brothers in the Republic of South Sudan,” he said, alongside South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir.
Mr Kiir said he had agreed with Mr Bashir to continue talks to solve all conflicts over disputed regions along their volatile 1,200 mile frontier.
After their meeting in the presidential office, Mr Bashir, who invited Mr Kiir to visit Khartoum, swapped his business suit for a traditional white robe to join Friday prayers in the Kuwaiti-built mosque in central Juba.
“I came to Juba because we now have the biggest chance to make peace,” he told 400 Muslim worshippers from South Sudan and the Sudanese expatriate community.
“We won’t go back to war. President Kiir and I agreed that the war was too long,” said Mr Bashir, who last visited Juba to attend South Sudan’s independence ceremony on July 9, 2011.
In Juba, residents said they hoped Mr Bashir’s visit would finally bring peace.
“We need to live in harmony. We need peace between Sudan and South Sudan,” said 22-year-old student Robert Mori.