Sudan says Nuba truce holding, could be extended

Jan 31 (Reuters)

Sudan said on Thursday a 10-day-old ceasefire in the central Nuba mountains was holding and it was hopeful the agreement could prove a prototype to extend to the rest of the war-torn country.

"Right now the ceasefire is holding very firmly with no violations at all," Sudanese charge d'affaires Ahmed Dirdeiry told a news conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

"We really feel that there's quite a fundamental shift towards peace in Sudan, and what is happening right now in the Nuba mountains could be only the start of a comprehensive ceasefire."

The Islamic government in Khartoum has been fighting rebels in southern Sudan for the past 18 years in a war that has killed about two million people. The rebels want more autonomy for the mainly Christian or animist south.

The Nuba region is just north of the front line but allied with the southern rebels. It has been ravaged by government bombardments and a scorched earth policy that drove thousands away from the fertile plains into the mountains.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people are in dire need of food aid.

A ceasefire to provide humanitarian access to Nuba was signed by the main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLA/SPLM), and the government on January 19 under Swiss and U.S. mediation. It came into force on January 22.

The SPLA/SPLM has accused Khartoum of violating the deal once on January 23, but the government says the incident took place on January 21, before the ceasefire came into force, and was triggered by SPLA shooting. Both parties agree there has been no fighting since.

The ceasefire is renewable after six months. International observers will monitor how it is implemented from March 20.

Dirdeiry said reports that Khartoum had recently bought MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia did not give out the wrong signal to the international community.

"I don't think there is a ban on the government of Sudan buying whatever weapons it wants to buy," he said. "We are not saying peace has been completely achieved in Sudan. But he said he could not confirm or deny the reports.

The SPLA/SPLM has accused the government of using revenues from oil fields in the south to buy fighter jets from Moscow. It says 12 MiGs have already been delivered and more have been ordered.