Sudanese government objects to peace talks' agenda

By Mohamed Osman Associated Press Writer
KHARTOUM, Sudan, Jan 09, 2003 (AP)

The Sudanese government objects to the agenda for peace talks with rebels scheduled to begin in Kenya next week, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said in remarks published Thursday.

While the Kenyan government is preparing to host the talks on Jan. 15, Ismail indicated to the official Al-Anba newspaper that the government may not attend unless significant changes are made.

"Contacts are still underway between the Sudanese Peace Advisory (office) and the secretariat of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, but the issues and the dates" of the meeting have not yet been agreed, Al-Anba quoted Ismail as saying.

The IGAD, which groups East African and Horn of Africa nations, has been chairing peace talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army since the mid-1990s. Last July, the process produced the outlines of a peace agreement known as the Machakos accord.

Ismail said his government did not accept that the main item on the agenda would be negotiations over the administration of the Abyei area of West Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains area of Southern Kordofan and the Angasana of Blue Nile province. The three zones currently belong to northern Sudan, but are sought by the southern rebels.

The main item should be peace in southern Sudan, where the civil war began in 1993, and "any resumption of the talks should be based on this," Ismail said. However, the chief mediator of the talks, Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo of Kenya, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the three areas were the No. 1 issue for the talks.

Sumbeiywo said the three zones had been beset by years of fighting and they had to be discussed before the warring parties could agree on a comprehensive agreement.

When told the government objected to the areas' topping the agenda, Sumbeiywo said if Khartoum had such a problem, that was "something they should table" at the negotiations, Sumbeiywo said in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Sumbeiywo said both the government and the SPLA had agreed last year to attend the negotiations, and he was not aware of any change. The last talks took place in November.

The three areas on the agenda are populated by African tribes, as is southern Sudan, rather than the Arabic-speaking people of northern Sudan.

"The government delegation says they are not part of southern Sudan, but our argument is they are part of the marginalized people of Sudan and they are fighting for their rights under the banner of the SPLA and they are African not Arab," Kwaje said.

"We would like them to be administered by the SPLA like other parts of southern Sudan during the interim period" of the Machakos peace process, Kwaje told The Associated Press in Nairobi.

The talks are due to work out the details of the Machakos accord under which the Sudanese constitution would be rewritten to ensure Islamic law can be used in the north without infringing on the rights of non-Muslims in the north or south. The accord also allows for a vote by the people in southern Sudan on whether to secede after a six year interim period that is supposed to begin after the signing of a comprehensive agreement.

The U.S peace envoy to Sudan, John Danforth, is due to hold talks with both the rebels and the government next week, said Peter Claussen, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Nairobi.

An estimated 2 million people have been killed during the civil war, mainly through war-induced famine, and another 4 million have been forced to flee their homes.