ADDIS ABABA: Rival leaders of Sudan and South Sudan met for face-to-face talks Friday ahead of a high-level security meeting at the African Union over the situation between the former civil war foes as well as the crisis in Mali.
"We are meeting today to consider the progress in the implementation of agreements signed between Sudan and South Sudan, and the fast evolving situation in Mali," said Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who chaired the meeting.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his Southern counterpart Salva Kiir met at the AU-mediated talks in the latest push to implement stalled economic, oil and security deals signed in September after bloody border conflict broke out last year.
Other key issues left unresolved after the ex-foes separated in July 2011 remain, namely the contested flashpoint Abyei region.
Kiir simply said that "we are not finished yet," when asked whether progress had been made at his tete-a-tete with Bashir.
AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra insisted there was a need "to move as fast as possible" to resolve outstanding disputes.
"The important thing is to stay the course because whenever the two leaders meet here in Addis Ababa there is an easing... positive trade-offs that have resulted in progress in the negotiations," he told AFP, acknowledging that it "takes patience, it takes perseverance."
Sudan and South Sudan have been at loggerheads over the demarcation of the oil-rich border and pipeline costs to export the South's crude via the north, a dispute that led to Juba halting oil production last January and weeks of border conflict.
The security meeting took place ahead of Sunday's AU summit, where the crisis in Mali is expected to top the agenda.
Lamamra said while the military offensive in Mali would be discussed, political solutions to the crisis must not be ignored.
"During and after the use of legitimate military intervention, there is a need to talk about politics, there is a need to lay the groundwork for a political settlement," he told AFP.
France swept to the aid of the weakened Malian army on January 11 as Islamist rebels controlling large swathes of the country's north pushed south towards the capital Bamako, amid rising fears the zone could become a haven for terrorism.
The rebels swept through northern Mali - taking over key towns Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal -- following a coup last year.
The West African bloc ECOWAS has set out plans to deploy 3,300 troops to help Mali retake the occupied north, but the deployment has been delayed by financing concerns.
An additional 2,000 soldiers from Chad, which is not a member of ECOWAS, are also to be deployed.
A high-level Sahalian official said he did not expect concrete resolutions on Mali to come out of the meeting and said he was "very satisfied with the intervention of France" in Mali, calling Africa's failure to intervene sooner a let-down.
"This is a failure for Africa, but we are used to it," he said speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The French-led offensive entered its third week with a strong push into the vast semi-arid zone amid rising humanitarian concerns for people in the area facing a dire food crisis.
African leaders are set to meet Tuesday for a donors conference to drum up further funds for Mali operations.
The meeting will include representatives from the European Union and the UN Security Council.