Impatient US warns Sudan, southern rebels time running out for peace deal

WASHINGTON
April 12 (AFP)

The United States on Monday warned the Sudanese government and southern rebels that they could face US sanctions if they do not conclude a long-anticipated but much-delayed peace deal in nine days time.

The State Department said the two sides had until April 21 to ink an agreement or leave themselves open to penalties called for by US law.

Secretary of State Colin Powell reminded Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang of the upcoming date during weekend phone calls, spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"We are reiterating to the parties our firm view that the time has come to conclude the negotiations," he told reporters, noting the approaching deadline and calling for the two sides to make "difficult compromises" for peace.

Under the 2002 Sudan Peace Act, President George W. Bush must determine every six months whether Khartoum and the SPLA are making
good faith efforts to reach an agreement and can impose sanctions on one side, the other or both depending on his findings. The next determination is due on April 21.

"That requires us to make clear which party or both is or are responsible for failure to achieve agreement and that determination, obviously, will affect how we deal with the parties in the future," Boucher said.

Under the law, the United States can seek a UN arms embargo on the Sudanese government and restrict its access to credit and oil revenue if Khartoum is found to have obstructed a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

At the same time, the law provides for cutting ties with the SPLA and other punitive measures if it is found to be at fault.Washington has grown increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of progress in the talks, particularly after the two sides missed a December 31 deadline for a deal to which they had pledged themselves in an October meeting with Powell.

Since that deadline passed, Bush, Powell and a series of other senior US envoys have applied constant pressure on Khartoum and the SPLA and in recent weeks stepped up the intensity because of the conflict and humanitarian crisis in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

Last Tuesday, the State Department said it wanted to see a deal reached by the end of the week.

When that deadline passed without an agreement, Boucher said Monday that Washington had withdrawn its last observer from the peace talks which have been taking place northwest of Nairobi in the Kenyan town of Naivasha.

"Our last observer left Lake Naivasha because we think that everything is on the table," he said. "It's time for the parties to reach a conclusion and decide."

On Saturday, the two sides said a deal was still a few days away with the status of Khartoum and the application of Islamic law there the only issue left to resolve.

Low level talks aimed at ending Africa's longest and most intricate conflict that has claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced four million people started in 2002 and Taha and Garang began a series of face-to-face negotiations in September last year.

Since July 2002, when they struck an accord granting the south the right to a referendum after a six-year transition period, other deals have been reached on a 50-50 split of the country's wealth -- particularly revenues from oil, and how to manage government and SPLA armies during the interim period.