Ceasefire observers start mission in Sudan

March 7 (AFP)

A first group of international observers for a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan has arrived in Khartoum, the official news agency SUNA reported Thursday.

The government signed a ceasefire accord, covering the Nuba Mountains and which is renewable on a six-monthly basis, with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) on January 19.

Under the accord, both sides will form part of a military commission together with an International Monitoring Unit (IMU) made up of between 10 and 15 observers.

The IMU, headed by a Norwegian, was to meet members of the Sudanese army general command before travelling to Kadugli, the main town in the Nuba Mountains and where the commission is to be based, SUNA said.

The first group is to pave the way for the deployment of the monitoring commission by the end of this month, foreign ministry undersecretary Mutraf Siddeiq told reporters.

He said they would also assess the humanitarian and developmental needs of the region.

Development and rehabilitation projects as well as the removal of landmines and reopening of roads in the Nuba Mountains will be launched with the arrival of the monitoring commission, said Siddeiq.

The region, with a 500,000 population, is seen as a test case for efforts to end an almost 19-year-old civil war in Sudan pitting successive Arab and Muslim governments in Khartoum against mainly Christian and animist southern rebels.