Sudanese government, rebels to meet in Switzerland for peace talks

by Mohamed Ali Saeed
Jan 13, 2002 (AFP)

The Sudanese government and southern rebels will meet in Switzerland this week in a bid to negotiate a US-proposed limited ceasefire in the 18-year-old civil war, the SUNA news agency reported Sunday.

The state-run SUNA reported the meeting after US special envoy for peace in Sudan John Danforth arrived here late Saturday to pursue the peace efforts he began during his visit last November.

Sudan's presidential peace adviser Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani said delegates of the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) would hold direct US-sponsored talks in Bern during the week, SUNA said. It did not mention the day it would begin.

The advisor to President Omar al-Beshir, who was scheduled to be the first Sudanese government official to meet Danforth on Monday, said the two sides would negotiate a US-proposed ceasefire for the Nuba mountains region.

Atabani again accused SPLA leader John Garang of being "concerned with war rather than peace", citing a merger of the SPLA with Riek Machar's Sudan People's Democratic Front (SPDF) that would lead to "an escalation of fighting" in southern Sudan.

Meanwhile, government teams and non-government organizations (NGOs) halted surveys to assess the humanitarian needs of the people in the Nuba Mountains in protest at a recent SPLA attack on a government-held area.

Governmental Humanitarian Aid Commissioner (HAC) Sulaf Eddin Salel was Sunday quoted by independent Al Rai Al Aam daily as saying HAC and NGOs stopped the assessment surveys provided for in a US-brokered agreement between the government and SPLA on the Nuba Mountains "following attacks by the rebel movement on Wednesday and Thursday."

He said HAD had notified the UN office in Khartoum of "the violations" by the SPLA in the Nuba Mountains and would raise a relevant complaint to Danforth.

In Bern last week, Swiss officials said the Sudanese government and rebels had been invited to talks on a limited ceasefire under a joint Swiss-US peace effort.

Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Muriel Berset-Kohen said negotiations would focus on a limited-term, but renewable, ceasefire in the Nuba mountains region in central Sudan that would be placed under international supervision.

The Nuba mountains region is only one part of a huge area of southern Sudan affected by the civil war in the country, which has raged since 1983.

If the warring parties agree to meet, the talks would be held at a secret location in Switzerland, she added. Swiss officials declined to say when they were meant to start.

A US embassy official in Switzerland said recent diplomatic moves to bring about the "initial technical talks" in Switzerland had centered on Sudanese government officials and local SPLA representatives from the Nuba mountains.

The official, Bruce Armstrong, said the Swiss were taking the lead in the diplomacy but that Danforth, who is US President George W. Bush's peace envoy for Sudan, is playing a key role in the process.

Since 1983 Arab and Muslim governments in Khartoum have been waging a war against SPLA rebels, made up mainly of animists and Christians from the south. Northern groups also took up arms against Khartoum in 1995.