Sudanese peace efforts step up a gear
SABC - South Africa
February 28, 2004
The Sudanese government and main rebel group signed a one-month truce extension today amid hopes the extra time would help them resolve two issues blocking a final agreement on ending Africa's longest civil war.
John Garang, a rebel leader, and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, the Sudanese first vice-president, resumed negotiations last week after adjourning last month to permit Taha to go on the Muslim haj pilgrimage. They will try to forge agreement on who rules three contested areas claimed by both sides and on how to share power.
"I expect they will agree on the two outstanding issues even before the end of this current session of the talks on March 16," Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the chief mediator in the peace process, said by telephone from Naivasha. "I don't expect the final peace agreement to be reached by the end of the coming month. But with the two outstanding issues out of the way, what will be left are details on security arrangements and modalities of implementation and so on."
Two decades of war in the oil-exporting country have pitted rebels from the largely animist and Christian south against the Islamist government forces in the Arab-speaking north. Disputes over oil, ethnicity and ideology have complicated the conflict that has killed an estimated two million people.
Africa's biggest country earns about $2 billion a year from its growing oil output of about 250 000 barrels a day, riches for an impoverished nation of 30 million that only began petroleum exports in the late 1990s. A deal signed last month provides a roughly equal division of oil revenues for Khartoum and a yet-to-be-created governing authority in the rebels' southern bastion when the war ends.
The accord to extend the truce until the end of March was signed by representatives of the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) at a brief ceremony in Naivasha, some 90km north west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The talks began in early 2002 but do not cover a separate rebellion in western Sudan which shows little sign of abating.