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Thousands of South Sudanese welcome al-Bashir in East Darfur

Despite Sudan’s recent decision to treat South Sudanese national present on its territories as foreigners, around 2,000 Southerners joined a mass rally for receiving Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at El Daein, the capital city of East Darfur State on Tuesday.

Thousands welcome Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

During the mass rally, the South Sudanese citizens carried banners welcoming the president, while folk bands performed folkloric dancers reflecting messages of peace and fraternity.

"We do not see ourselves as strangers. We are all here as Sudanese citizens receiving our president al-Bashir," Ibrahim Weil, head of Sultans of the South Sudanese nationals in East Darfur, said.

Weil seemed unconcerned with political decisions, saying "politics is what has divided us. Now it is apparent that the separation was a political trick. We have returned to Sudan again where we live as citizens."

Mohamed Al-Haj, an official of the Humanitarian Aid Commission in El Daein, told the media that the number of South Sudanese refugees in East Darfur State is about 26,500.

East Darfur State, on the border with South Sudan, is considered a major crossing point for commodities from Sudan to the South.

It also includes Samaha and Hufrat al-Nahas areas, which are disputed over by Sudan and South Sudan.

Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees fled the war, which broke out in their country in 2013, to neighboring countries including Sudan.

The South Sudanese refugees in East Darfur live at Khour Omer camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) near El Daein town. The camp also accommodates Sudanese IDPs displaced from areas in Darfur region which has been witnessing a civil war since 2003.

Iyssa Mohamed Al-Shareef, a leader at Khour Omer IDP camp, told the press that "our brothers from South Sudan live with us in the camp. We do not feel they are strangers and they feel the same."

According to official statistics, around 198,000 South Sudanese fled the violence in their country to Sudan.

The majority of refugees live in the camps distributed in White Nile, East Darfur, West Kordofan and Khartoum States.

On March 17, Sudan government decided to treat the South Sudanese nationals within its territories as foreigners when receiving services, saying it would adopt legal procedures against those who do not have passports or entry visas.

The decision came contrary to a previous decision by al-Bashir to treat the South Sudanese fleeing the fighting in their country as citizens.

Recently, Khartoum escalated its accusations of Juba of supporting the rebels who are fighting Khartoum at Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

On Jan. 27, the Sudanese President issued a decision ordering to open the country’s borders with South Sudan after more than four years of closure.

Sudan closed its border with South Sudan in June 2011, as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)/northern sector rebelled in Sudan’s South Kordofan State, along the border with the South.

Khartoum then accused Juba of sheltering SPLM/northern sector rebels, in addition to providing them with logistical support via the shared border.

In September 2012, Sudan and South Sudan signed a cooperation agreement in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa under the patronage of the African Union.

The agreement included a package of understandings related to security, citizens’ status, border and economic issues. However, the signed agreements did not tackle the issues of Abyei and border demarcation.

The border issue is the biggest obstacle to the settlement of differences between Sudan and South Sudan, involving around five border areas.

By Robert Muriisa.

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