Swiss invite Sudan govt, rebels for peace talks

Jan 10, 2002 (Reuters)

The Swiss government has invited representatives from the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM/SPLA) to come to Switzerland for ceasefire talks next week, a foreign ministry official said on Thursday.

Both sides have yet to reply to the offer, said Muriel Berset-Kohen, the Swiss foreign ministry spokesperson. Talks are expected to last one week and would be held at an unspecified location, she added.

"We have had contacts for many years with the Sudanese parties. Now with stronger American involvement the conditions are in place to reach an agreement," said Berset-Kohen.

The U.S. government has said it wants to help bring peace to Sudan and in November its special envoy to Sudan negotiated a partial ceasefire mainly to allow humanitarian assistance to reach millions of displaced people.

SPLM/SPLA Chairman John Garang said at the end of December that the only hope for peace was through an independent arbitrator and accused the Sudanese government of violating the ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan.

The SPLM/SPLA has been fighting since 1983 for autonomy in Sudan's mainly Christian or animist south from the Islamic government in the north, but has been plagued by political and tribal divisions.

The SPLM/SPLA signed an agreement with a rival militia group, the Sudan People's Defence Force (SPDF), on Monday but the SPDF has not been invited to the talks, Berset-Kohen said .