Sudan’s new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, arrived in South Sudan on Thursday on his first official visit since becoming premier, declaring “the sky is the limit” for ties between the former foes.
Hamdok, heading an 18-member transitional government following the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, is set to meet South Sudan President Salva Kiir as well as Sudanese opposition leaders on his two-day visit.
“I am very delighted to be here in my second home, Juba. We are looking for a very strategic, very distinguished relationship between our two nations, and the sky is the limit for this relationship,” Hamdok said upon his arrival.
“We hope to have a very prosperous relationship that will address issues of trade, border issue, oil, free movement of our people between the two countries and all these agendas.”
South Sudan split from the north in 2011 after decades of bloody war with Khartoum, famously becoming the world’s youngest nation.
But just two years later, it plunged into its own internal conflict, with catastrophic consequences.
While tensions remain high between south and north over ongoing border disputes and the transfer of oil to the north, the two nations have increasingly moved to normalise ties in recent years.
Analysts say the two have been pushed together by the grinding war in South Sudan, which has defied several peace attempts, and an economic crisis in Sudan, which was hard-hit by the collapse of the south’s oil industry.
One of Bashir’s last moves before his ouster was to broker a peace deal between President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar — at a time when much of the world had wearied of trying to solve the crisis.
However the 2018 peace deal has stalled as Sudan has battled its own political crisis in recent months.
Observers are anxious to see if Khartoum’s new government will push Kiir and Machar to advance on the implementation of the deal.
The two men met this week in Juba for the first time in five months, with a power-sharing government meant to be set up by November.
In a further sign of rapprochement between the two countries, Kiir offered in 2018 to mediate peace talks between Khartoum and rebels in the Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur conflict zones.
The Blue Nile and South Kordofan fought alongside the south for independence, however were left north of the border in 2011 and have continued their own insurgency against Khartoum.
Rebels in Darfur also waged a long war over marginalisation in the western region.
Hamdok has vowed to end these conflicts which have left thousands dead and millions displaced.
This week armed groups from those areas held talks in Juba which ended Wednesday in the signing of a deal on “pre-negotiation principles” with Khartoum.
“We assure them and the people of Sudan in general that all the suffering and the killing and marginalisation will end,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chairman of the Sudan Sovereign Council.