Airlines cancel South Sudan flights after deadline

Airlines cancelled flights from Sudan to the newly independent South on Monday, travellers said, after new rules treating the route as international took effect.

The ending of domestic services to South Sudan came the day after a deadline for an estimated half a million ethnic Southerners to return South or formalise their status in the north.

“We came here with my family and were informed by the company that our flight was cancelled, and now I’m trying to solve my problem,” one South Sudanese stranded at Khartoum airport told AFP.

Other travellers also reported cancelled flights.

Abdelhafiz Abdelrahim, spokesperson for the Sudan Aviation Authority, told AFP that beginning on Monday airlines operating to South Sudan had to comply with international procedures.

“This means the flight must have landing permission from the South and passengers must have visas,” he said.
Carriers serving Juba and other points in South Sudan would move from Khartoum’s domestic terminal to the international one, Abdelrahim added.

Marsland Aviation, one of the airlines linking Juba and Khartoum, said it was fully booked now. The airline offered seats for next week but said the new requirements would have to be met.

“You should have a visa from the South Sudanese embassy,” an airline worker said. “Then you must have a ticket.”

Confusion at the airport added to the uncertainty facing South Sudanese in Sudan after Sunday’s deadline.

The April 8 time limit ended a grace period after South Sudan separated last July in the wake of an overwhelming “yes” vote in an independence referendum that followed Africa’s longest civil war.

The 22-year conflict killed two million people and drove many more to the north.

While hundreds of thousands of people have already returned to the South, an estimated 500 000 others remain in Sudan, waiting for clear direction on what to do.

Those seeking to apply for northern residence need documents from South Sudan but many cannot afford a trip South to get the relevant papers.

Only relatively recently did the South show a readiness to document its people in the north.

But even those who have obtained Southern passports said they were not sure how to register their presence in Sudan.

More than 11 000 Southerners have been living for months in makeshift shelters at the Kosti way-station south of Khartoum, waiting for transport home by barge or other means.

The Sunday deadline fell during a period of high tension between Sudan and South Sudan.

Border fighting that erupted two weeks ago between the two neighbours was the most serious unrest since Juba’s independence, and prompted international fears of a return to full-blown conflict.

African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki held talks late last week over the crisis with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir.

During the Khartoum meeting Mbeki and Bashir also discussed the future of the Southerners still in Sudan. Mbeki said Bashir noted the hospitable nature of Sudanese people and said there is “no reason for fear” among the Southerners. — AFP

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