Beshir expects final Sudanese peace agreement next week

KHARTOUM
Dec 30 (AFP)

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir expects to close a definitive peace deal with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) next week.

"Next week could see the signing of a final agreement on the questions of sharing of power, sharing of resources and the three contested areas," Beshir was quoted as saying in the official daily Al-Anbaa on Tuesday.

He noted that negotiators had already reached agreement on the relationship between religion and state, a referendum on independence for the south, and on security and military issues, adding that they had also made substantial progress on the resource-sharing issue.

"Disagreement remains on certain expressions in the proposed agreement," he said.

Representatives from the Sudanese government, led by Vice President Ali Osman Taha, and from the SPLA, led by their chief John Garang, started negotiating again last Friday in Naivasha, Kenya.

They are essentially focusing on how to share power during an anticipated transitional period of self-rule for the south, and the control of three disputed areas.

These are Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile state, which lie north of the administrative boundaries left over by Britain on independence in 1956, and are claimed by both the government and the rebels.

Talks could go on through the first week of January, a member of the government delegation, Motref Seddik, was quoted as saying.

They are now held at the delegation chief level following reports from each party's technical committee on the contentious issues, he said.

The war in Sudan, which erupted in 1983, is the longest on the African continent. It has pitted the south, where most observe traditional African religions and Christianity, against the Muslim, Arabized north.

The conflict has claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced an estimated four million people.

Previous rounds of talks, also in Kenya, have yielded success, first in 2002 when the foes agreed that, after six years of self-rule the south will hold a referendum on whether to join the north, or secede.