Sudan truce deal hits a roadblock

Gulf News
18-01-2004

South Sudanese rebels negotiating with the government on how to end more than 20 years of civil war said yesterday there could be no final peace agreement until the status of three disputed areas was resolved.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir said on Tuesday the Kenya-hosted peace talks were not mandated to discuss the three disputed areas - Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei, potentially raising a major obstacle to a peace deal.

But Yasir Arman, a spokesman for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), said talks on the disputed areas were continuing in Kenya and a resolution was essential. "There will be no (final) agreement unless the-re is a full agreement on the three areas," Arman said by telephone.

"The three areas are an important component to the peace in Sudan. It is the reason we have been fighting for 20 years."

He said the two top negotiators, First Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and rebel leader John Garang, were discussing the three disputed areas yesterday, aiming to clear the matter before they move to the next outstanding issue of power sharing.

"The principals (Garang and Taha) are not here on a political picnic. They are doing a real job to resolve the three areas and power sharing," Arman said, adding that the SPLA believed the dispute over the three areas was surmountable.

"It is not any more difficult than the wealth sharing or the security issues. The same determination will see us through," he said, referring to important accords signed by the two parties. There was no immediate comment from government officials.

Several senior members of the SPLA come from the disputed areas, which are part of the north.