Vice-president returning to Kenya to rejoin talks

NAIROBI
10 March (IRIN)

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha is to return to the peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya, on Thursday, following three days of consultations in Khartoum.

The purpose of the consultations held with President Umar al-Bashir and senior government officials was "to try to bring this round of talks to a
close" and "to avert a breakdown of the talks", a government spokesman, Sa'id Khatib, told IRIN on Wednesday. He added that despite the hurdles, "the president was upbeat on the prospect of arriving at a solution".

For the last two months, the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), have been trying to reach agreement on the hotly disputed areas of southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba mountains. The three areas are traditionally considered part of northern Sudan, following the 1956 administrative boundaries, but are currently partly controlled by the SPLM/A, which says it represents the local populations.

According to the government, the three areas are ineligible for self-determination, unlike southern Sudan, which will hold a referendum on self-determination six and a half years after a peace agreement is signed.

Since a wealth-sharing agreement was signed on 5 January, the two sides have been discussing the three disputed areas - with the exception of a
three-week break at the end of January - but no progress was in sight, according to Malik Eyre Agar, the SPLM/A secretary in southern Blue Nile and a key negotiator at the peace talks.

"No agreement has been reached yet," he told IRIN on Wednesday, adding that the SPLM/A was awaiting a response from the government on its latest position paper.

So far, agreement has been reached on wealth-sharing and security arrangements for the six-and-a-half-year interim period. Once a solution has been hammered out for the three areas, power-sharing arrangements have to be agreed on before the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement.