Sudan rebel chief says arbitration key for peace

Dec 20 (Reuters)

Sudanese rebel chief John Garang said on Thursday peace with the government could only come through an independent arbitrator, saying he saw little hope of progress from mediation to end an 18-year civil war.

"Whether there can be a breakthrough in the peace process depends on arbitration rather than mediation because we have mediated and used the most beautiful words you can think of since 1989," Garang, the chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) told a news conference in Nairobi.

The SPLA said that possible arbitrators could include the United States or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a group of east African states that has sponsored largely fruitless talks since 1995.

"It is really for somebody somewhere to come up with what would be considered a fair and just political settlement that can lead to a breakthrough."

The SPLA is fighting the Islamist government in Khartoum for greater autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist south in a war which has killed an estimated two million people since 1983.

The U.S. government has said it wants to help bring peace to Sudan and in November its special envoy to Sudan negotiated a partial ceasefire mainly to allow humanitarian assistance to reach millions of displaced people.

But Garang complained that the government had continued to violate the ceasefire on the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan. He called on the U.S. and the world to put pressure on Khartoum to stop what he termed as "terrorist" acts on its people in the south.

"There is no difference between international terrorism and domestic terrorism, international Jihad and domestic Jihad," Garang said.

Various mediation initiatives have been made to reconcile the two parties but with little success.

Sudan's Arab neighbours, Egypt and Libya, launched a joint initiative in 1999.

IGAD's plan proposes separation of the state from religion, and recognises the right of self-determination for the south.

Garang said the SPLA would continue to fight oil exploration in the south, saying the oil companies operating in the region were doing it at their own risk.

"We are determined to close down the oil field using whatever means we have at our disposal," he said.