Khartoum "enthusiastic" but cautious about US peace initiative

Dec 29 (AFP)

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir said his government is "extremely enthusiastic" about a US initiative to end Sudan's 18-year old civil war in an interview published Saturday.

Beshir however cautioned that the points addressed in the initiative are "not basic issues," and said that Sudan must be wary of the US domestic factors behind the initiative.

"Of course we are extremely enthusiastic about the American effort," Beshir told the independent al-Rai al-Am and al-Khartoum dailies.

US special envoy to Sudan John Danforth has proposed four measures aimed at building confidence between the Khartoum government and the mostly Christian and animist rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

His four ideas are to extend a truce in the Nuba Mountains, create "zones and times of tranquility" in southern Sudan to expedite relief, refraining from striking civilian targets and ending practices of abduction and slavery.

"All these are not basic issues, but are questions in which US public opinion is interested," Beshir said.

The points put too much emphasis on the Nuba Mountains, where Beshir claimed that the rebels hold only 5 percent of the territory, and "are not related to south Sudan where the war has displaced millions of people," Beshir said.

The SPLA holds large swathes of territory in the south, with government forces largely confined to garrison towns.

Beshir also said that claims over the existence of a slave trade in Sudan is "a hollow allegation" and that zones of tranquillity have long been applied and observed.

However, Beshir said, the proposals were a Bush administration attempt to "neutralise" what he said was a "pressure camp... comprising the Christian right, Jewish and African-American lobbies."

"We have to take into consideration all possibilities behind (the US peace initiative), so as not to be surprised by any unexpected American attitudes," Beshir said.