Khartoum refuses to resume peace talks if they cover disputed regions

Jan 13 (AFP)

Khartoum will not resume peace talks with southern rebels planned to start Wednesday in Kenya if they cover three disputed regions in the centre of the country, a Sudanese official said Monday.

Presidential peace adviser Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani told journalists that the government would invite Kenyan mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo to "harmonise with Sudanese officials in order to remove the obstacles hampering the resumption of negotiations."

Sumbeiywo is the mediator for the seven-state Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which is sponsoring the talks between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in Machakos, Kenya.

Atabani called on the IGAD mediators to respect the accord signed on November 18 at the end of the last round of talks, which he said stipulated that the next round would cover southern Sudan and the sharing of natural resources.

He expressed surprise that the question of the three regions had suddenly come to the fore, while stressing that the government controlled 90 percent of them.

The SPLA last month claimed that it had won a mandate from the southern part of Blue Nile state, in eastern Sudan, and from the Nuba in central Southern Kordofan state, to represent them at the talks.

The SPLA is also seeking to represent the people of the Abyei region, further to the south in Southern Kordofan state.

Khartoum said Wednesday it would not discuss central Sudan with the rebels before progress is made on the status of the south itself.

Khartoum and the SPLA agreed during a first round of talks, held in July in Kenya, that mainly Christian and animist south should have a six-year period of self-rule under SPLA administration, after which it "would have the right to self-determination".

In a second round of talks that ended in November they agreed to extend a truce signed in October and to continue peace negotiations until the end of March.

The talks are aimed at ending Sudan's devastating civil war, estimated to have claimed one and a half million lives and displaced four million people since 1983.

Meanwhile a two-day meeting of ministers from nine Arab countries was scheduled to open Monday in Khartoum to discuss the Sudanese question among other topics.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said before leaving Cairo for the meeting chaired by Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa that Egypt wanted to see Sudan's unity preserved, with all regions sharing in the country's wealth.