Sudan government, rebels continue U.S., Swiss mediated peace talks

By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS Associated Press Writer
Jan 15, 2002 (AP)

The Sudanese government and southern rebels Tuesday continued peace talks under U.S. and Swiss mediation at a resort overlooking Lake Lucerne in central Switzerland, officials said.

"First discussion concerning negotiation rules and procedures started on Monday," said a statement by the Swiss Foreign Ministry. "Detailed cease-fire negotiations" were beginning Tuesday, it said.

However, the organizers continue to refuse to go into detail about what is being discussed "to facilitate open and substantial exchanges between the parties," the ministry statement said.

The statement said that the Sudanese government's 11-member delegation arrived Monday to join in the talks with a seven-member team from the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army.

"The composition of both delegations is on a technical level since they will have to negotiate the specific modalities of the cease-fire," the ministry said.

Switzerland and the United States are trying to end Sudan's 18-year civil war, one of the longest-running in Africa. More than 2 million people are estimated to have died in fighting and related famines.

The SPLA draws support from southern Sudan, where the animist and Christian population resents rule by the Muslim-dominated north. The rebels are seeking autonomy, and possible independence, for the south.

The U.S. government has dispatched John Danforth, a former senator from Missouri, to work on a peace agreement.

Swiss officials say that the talks in the Buergenstock resort are part of Danforth's initiative even though he isn't present.

Washington has separated the peace efforts from Sudan's perceived role as a haven for Islamic radicals and speculation that the country might be on a list of U.S. targets after Afghanistan.

The United States hit a Sudanese factory with missiles in 1998 in response to the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Sudan has been on the State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism for years, but has given signs of cooperation with Washington recently.

Osama bin Laden, the Saudi national accused by the United States of masterminding the terrorist attacks, lived in Sudan in the 1990s until he moved to Afghanistan after being expelled in 1996.

The conflict zone touches on an area being developed by a wide range of oil companies ranging from China to Canada.

Underscoring the international interest in the petroleum reserves, top executives from Slavneft, a leading Russian oil company, flew to Sudan on Tuesday to sign an exploration deal, the Internet news agency reported in Moscow.

The U.S. oil company Chevron pulled out of Sudan in 1984, largely because of insecurity, after carrying out extensive explorations in the south.