24 December, 2002 (IRIN)
The Sudanese government and southern rebels have extended for the second time a ceasefire agreement in the Nuba Mountains region until mid-2003, according to news agencies.
"This is indeed a great moment for all the people of the Nuba Mountains... The Nuba people have for years been in the front line of the war and without adequate humanitarian support," Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, chairman of the international Joint Military Commission, the body charged with overseeing the ceasefire, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-Nuba (SPLM/A-Nuba) originally signed the renewable six-month ceasefire in the 80,000 sq km Nuba Mountains region of Southern Kordofan State, on 19 January this year, following a proposal made by US peace envoy John Danforth.
Formal peace negotiations between the SPLM/A and the Sudanese government designed to bring an end to the country's 19-year civil war are scheduled to resume in Kenya in early January. A broad framework for a peace deal - the Machakos Protocol - was agreed in July, but agreement has yet to be reached on key issues such as the sharing of power and wealth in a post-conflict Sudan. A general cessation of hostilities has also been agreed, and is scheduled to last until the end of March 2003.
The Nuba Mountains, however, is considered as a "transition area" between northern and southern and Sudan, and its status in any peace deal has yet to be decided upon. While the SPLM/A have claimed the region as part of the south, Khartoum says it has been part of the north for administrative purposes since independence in 1956, and should not take part in the southern self-determination process.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said on 20 December that further progress had been made towards peace during meetings between the two sides held in Washington last week. A joint statement from SPLM/A and government representatives issued after the meetings said they had agreed, among other things, to "avoid provocative rhetoric unhelpful to the peace process".
"The two sides take this opportunity to reaffirm their strong commitment to achieving a just and comprehensive peace settlement as quickly as possible," the statement said.