Western military experts arrive to monitor cease-fire

KHARTOUM, Sudan
Mar 06, 2002 (AP)

Three Western military experts, including an American general, arrived in Khartoum Wednesday and headed south to monitor a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains.

The U.S.-Swiss mediated truce, struck in Buergenstock, Switzerland, on Jan. 19, began Jan. 22. Its success so far has raised cautious hopes for a broader agreement to end Sudan's 19-year-old civil war.

The truce deal had called for a joint monitoring commission composed of representatives of each side and neutrals and an international monitoring unit of 10-15 military and civilian personnel. The three Westerners who arrived Wednesday are the vanguard of the international unit.

The three were to hold a number of meetings with Sudanese officials and "check the arrangements related to the (cease-fire) implementation and mechanism," according to a statement from the office of Sudan's presidential peace adviser, Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani.

Diplomats said the three were flown to the Nuba Mountains, in central Sudan some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Khartoum, soon after arriving in Khartoum.

The Nuba people, squeezed between the Muslim government dominated by Arab northerners and southern rebels, are among those hardest hit by the war.

Also Wednesday, army spokesman Gen. Mohammed Bashir Suleiman was quoted in the independent daily Akbhar Al-Youm as saying the military was working to ensure it did not repeat the firing by an army helicopter on civilians gathered to receive U.N. aid. The Feb. 20 firing killed 17 people, according to U.N. World Food Program.

"Meticulous coordination between the armed forces and the concerned parties such as ... the voluntary organizations would avoid any repeat of such unintended errors," the spokesman said.

Southern Sudanese rebels have been fighting the Islamic government in Khartoum since 1983, demanding more autonomy for southern Sudan and religious freedom for southerners who follow mainly traditional beliefs or Christianity. More than 2 million people have died in fighting and war-related famines.