International community hails progress in peace talks

NAIROBI
26 September (IRIN)

The international community has widely welcomed an historic agreement on security arrangements between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the parties to sustain the current pace of the talks, taking place in Naivasha, Kenya, and to reach a "speedy settlement of the conflict".

The US State Department hailed the "extraordinary courage" of Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and SPLM/A Chairman John Garang, and committed itself to working "tirelessly" with both parties to resolve the remaining issues.

The European Union said it encouraged the parties to "seize the momentum" to reach a final peace deal and reiterated its readiness to "assist the parties in the implementation of the peace agreement". The British government said it would continue to give "every support" to the Sudanese parties and the mediators in their efforts to resolve the conflict.

The agreement, signed on Thursday, allows both the government and the SPLA to retain separate armed forces, which will be proportionally downsized during the six-and-a-half-year interim period.

The forces will be disengaged, separated, and redeployed during the interim period, while an internationally monitored ceasefire is in place. Both armies will be "considered and treated equally" as Sudan's national armed forces and will be governed "by consensus", says the text of the agreement.

Joint integrated units of equal numbers - a symbol of "national unity" - will be deployed in southern Sudan (12,000 from each side), the Nuba mountains (3,000 each), Southern Blue Nile (3,000 each) and the capital Khartoum (1,500 each). A "common military doctrine" will be the basis for training the forces on both sides, as well as the integrated units.

The rest of the government armed forces which are deployed in the south will be moved to north of the 1956 border within two and a half years from the signing of a comprehensive agreement. Similarly, SPLA forces which are not part of the integrated units and are currently deployed in the Nuba mountains and Southern Blue Nile will be moved south of the 1956 border.

Other armed forces or militias in Sudan will not form part of the national armies, says the text.

"No armed group allied to either party shall be allowed to operate outside the two forces," it stated. Members of these groups who qualify will be incorporated into the army, police, prisons and wildlife forces of each side, or reintegrated into the civil service and civil society.

In eastern Sudan, the SPLA will move south of the border within a year of the signing of a comprehensive agreement, while the parties will discuss the possibility of establishing joint units there.

Parties at the Naivasha talks are expected to immediately resume negotiations on the areas of Southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba mountains, as well as the broader issues of power and wealth sharing.