Sudan government, rebels say observing ceasefire

Jan 23, 2002 (Reuters)

Sudanese government troops and southern rebels said they were observing a ceasefire in a key rebel stronghold that entered a second day on Wednesday.

The government and rebels agreed last week at talks in Switzerland to halt fighting on Tuesday in the Nuba mountains region of central Sudan, which is facing a humanitarian crisis.

While the ceasefire only covers one area torn by the 19-year-old civil war, diplomats have said they hoped the deal could serve as a model for the rest of the country.

"Members of the army at the Nuba mountains have complied completely with the orders of a ceasefire issued to them," an army spokesman was quoted as telling al-Rai al-Aam newspaper on Wednesday.

A rebel spokesman, asked if the ceasefire was being observed, said it had gone into effect at the scheduled time.

"We sent a message from our chairman to all the army units for the ceasefire to start yesterday (Tuesday) at noon," spokesman Samson Kwaje of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) said in Nairobi.

The two sides also agreed to allow civilians to move freely inside the Nuba region, covering some 80,000 sq km (31,000 miles), and to permit humanitarian aid to enter by air.

The deal, mediated jointly by Switzerland and the United States, was struck after five days of closed-door talks between the government and members of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the political wing of the SPLA.

The talks are part of increased diplomatic activity to end the civil war in the vast African state.

U.S. peace envoy John Danforth visited the country last week, but said at the time he was not satisfied with the warring parties' efforts so far.

The ceasefire was set to last for six months initially, but could be renewed. Kwaje said the Nuba Mountains agreement would not extend to the rest of the country.

"The negotiations in Geneva were strictly for the Nuba mountains," he said.

Rebels said on Tuesday they had killed 364 government soldiers in two battles in other areas of the oil-rich south. The SPLA said the fighting had occured before the agreement. There was no comment from the government in Khartoum.

Rebels from Sudan's mainly Christian and animist south are fighting for greater autonomy from the government in the largely Muslim, Arab north. The war, which began in 1983, has claimed around two million lives.