The leaders of feuding former civil war foes Sudan and South Sudan committed on Saturday to negotiate a solution to their differences over border demarcation and oil revenues and to shun any use of military force.
The neighbours, which once made up Sub-Saharan Africa's largest country before South Sudan gained independence last year, came close to returning to all-out war in April in clashes over an unresolved border and the sharing of oil revenues.
They face a threat of sanctions from the U.N. Security Council unless they peacefully resolve these and other security issues by a deadline of August 2.
The Security Council has already expressed concern over delays in the negotiating process.
While Bashir and Kiir did not shake hands on Saturday, they did address each other in the AU Council session and pledged themselves to a "new spirit of strategic partnership", the AU's Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters.
He added this included a commitment "never again to have recourse to force to resolve their differences".
The presence of the two leaders at the AU Council session was the closest encounter between them since they met in March, before Sudanese and South Sudanese forces clashed over the disputed Heglig oil zone in April.
Norway's Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Endre Stiansen, said he welcomed the active participation of the African Union in encouraging the two Sudans to keep talking and avoid any return to conflict.
"We are getting to the end of the (U.N. Security Council) deadline and so it is essential that pressure is maintained on the parties," he told Reuters in Addis Ababa.
South Sudanese rebels fought the government of the largely Muslim, Arabic-speaking north for more than two decades in a bloody civil war that ended with a 2005 peace accord, opening the way for the independence of the South last year.
Stiansen said he hoped the two sides could settle their differences over the position of their border, how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan, and the division of national debt, before Aug 2.
"There is nothing new on the table now. If they want to move, they can move," he told Reuters, adding that international donors were ready to support the peace process.
Some observers said the two presidents' presence at the AU summit, during which members of their respective delegations greeted each other, could lead to a direct bilateral meeting between the leaders before the early August deadline. By A Web design Company
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