Khartoum, rebels sign key peace protocols

Kenya
25 May (AFP)

Sudan's government and main rebel group will on Wednesday sign key deals on the remaining political issues standing in the way of a final accord to end 21 years of civil war, the Kenyan foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

"A major breakthrough in Sudan peace talks... has been achieved. The breakthrough has realised agreements on key outstanding issues of power-sharing, the two conflict areas of Nuba Mountain and Southern Blue Nile as well as Abyei," the ministry said in a statement.

Three protocols will be signed on Wednesday at the talks' venue in Naivasha, 80km northwest of Nairobi, the statement said.

"The protocols represent a major step towards the achievement of a final comprehensive settlement to the conflict," the statement added.

The accords will cap two years of intensive negotiations between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), leaving only technical aspects of a permanent ceasefire to be thrashed out before a comprehensive peace accord is sealed.

The deals do not cover a separate 15-month conflict which is raging in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Sudan's vice-president Ali Osman Taha and SPLA chief John Garang have been meeting since September 2003, after low-level delegates failed to move forward.

To mount more pressure, US Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Africa Charles Snyder met Taha and Garang in April and early this month to express international displeasure that the process had been dragging on for too long.

The war erupted in 1983 when the south, where most observe Christianity and numerous traditional religions, took up arms to end domination by the wealthier, Islamic and Arabised north.

Together with recurrent famine and disease, Africa's longest conflict has claimed at least 1,5-million lives and displaced more than four million people, mostly in the impoverished south, according to aid agencies.

Since July 2002, when the two sides 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 on how to manage government and SPLA armies during the interim period.