Sudanese rebels say talks with government about cease-fire

By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer
Jan 13, 2002 (AP)

U.S. mediated talks next week between the Sudanese government and southern rebels will concentrate on a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains and the technical committees will not discuss a comprehensive peace, a rebel spokesman said Sunday.

Samson Kwaje, spokesman for the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, tried to downplay the significance of the talks scheduled to begin Monday in Geneva.

"These are technical committees and they will only be discussing a cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains, the details of the cease-fire plans," Samson Kwaje, spokesman for the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, said. "These are not peace talks, they will only be talking about that cease-fire."

Kwaje said SPLA representatives were flying to Geneva on Sunday and that the first talks would take place on Monday. Kwaje's comments follow a statement by Ghazi Salah el-Din Atabani, an adviser to Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, that the United States for the first time will mediate peace talks between the government and the rebel SPLA.

The Atabani statement said the negotiations would aim for "the implementation of the agreement reached with the American envoy to Sudan, John Danforth, during his recent visit to Sudan."

The initiative could reflect increased interest in Washington in helping end the 18-year civil war, the longest running on the continent, in which more than 2 million people are estimated to have died in fighting and attendant famines.

Washington has provided about dlrs 1.2 billion in humanitarian aid to southern Sudan since 1989. The Sudan People's Liberation Army draws support from southern Sudan, where the animist and Christian population resent rule from the Muslim-dominated north. The rebels are seeking autonomy, and possible independence, for the south.

Previous negotiations have been chaired intermittently by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a group of east and central African states. At an IGAD meeting last week, Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi was asked by regional leaders to supervise all Sudanese peace initiatives.

El-Bashir and the SPLA have agreed in principle on the holding of a referendum for the self-determination of what was defined as southern Sudan at the time of independence. But the SPLA wants to include other areas, such as the southwestern Nuba mountains - a demand that the government rejects.

Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, has proposed a package of confidence-boosting measures beginning with a cease-fire in the Nuba mountains, a halt to aerial bombardments, the creation of "zones of tranquility" to allow the delivery of aid, and efforts to stop the practice of militia enslaving civilians.

Arriving in Khartoum on Saturday, Danforth refused to comment on the planned talks, saying only he was in the country on a four-day visit that will include a trip on Sunday to the southern Nuba mountains and talks with officials in Khartoum.

Danforth has said that if his current visit to Sudan fails to yield progress, he will end his mediation.