Sudan says its Nuba region will not fall for rebel "propaganda"

December 9, 2002 (AFP)

Khartoum says the people enjoying a year-long truce in Sudan's central Nuba Mountains will stay the course of peace and not fall for the "propaganda" visit made last week by southern rebel leader John Garang.

The Nuba agreed during Garang's visit that his Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) should represent them in talks with the government and, like the south, they should enjoy an interim period of self rule, the SPLA said.

However, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail dismissed the visit as a "sort of a propaganda" ploy and accused the SPLA of "attempting to stand in the way of the sweeping trend for peace," the official Al-Anbaa daily reported.

Garang's tour would not affect "the great change that has happened to the people of the Nuba Mountains who are committed to peace and are opposed to war and will determine how peace will be achieved in their region," Ismail said.

Ismail also said Uganda was making arrangements for a second meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir and Garang, after an unprecedented first encounter in Kampala in July that supported a blueprint for peace drawn up in Kenya. No date or venue has been agreed upon yet.

During a meeting last week in the Nuba Mountain town of Kawda, SPLA spokesman Yasser Arman said, the Nuba "agreed to give the SPLM a mandate to represent" their region in a third round of peace talks with the government, set for January in Kenya.

He said the Nuba Mountains representatives wanted their region to have a six-year period of self-rule under SPLA/M administration, after which it "would have the right to self-determination."

The Khartoum government and SPLA/M agreed during a first round of talks, held in July in Kenya, on a similar deal for the mainly Christian and animist southern Sudan.

Their preliminary accord provides for a referendum to be held at the end of the six-year period of self-rule in southern Sudan to determine whether the region wanted to secede or stay united with the Muslim north.

Two decades of civil war in Sudan have claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives and displaced around four million people.

The Nuba Mountains are an enclave away from the main war zone in the south, and a landmark ceasefire deal was concluded in the region, home to some half a million people, last January.

SPLA/M says it controls most of the Nuba region.