Khartoum to stay away from planned Sudan talks

NAIROBI, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Sudan's government said on Tuesday it would not attend a session of peace talks focusing on disputed regions which rebels and mediators expect to resume on Wednesday.

Khartoum says the three disputed areas -- Abyei, Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains -- belong to the north and should not therefore be discussed at a meeting which is supposed to concentrate on the problems of southern Sudan.

The Kenyan-hosted talks between southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the northern government, which aim to end Sudan's 19-year-old war, broke off in November for the Christmas period and Kenya's general election.

Mediators and rebels said they expected to resume in Nairobi on Wednesday afternoon, and would be discussing three areas which are currently disputed between north and south. Both said they expected the government to attend.

"We understand that they are coming," SPLA spokesman George Garang said. "We have had no communication from mediators to the contrary."

But the government said on Tuesday that though it was eager to resume negotiations, it had not agreed to start on Wednesday.

"We are not going," Sudanese deputy ambassador Ahmed Dirdeiry told Reuters.

"We got an invitation for this meeting but we did not respond. What we are looking for is another meeting on the outstanding issues of southern Sudan. They (the three areas) are not part of southern Sudan."

Organisers had hoped to hold talks in Nairobi about the three areas under Kenyan mediation.

IGAD, the regional conflict resolution body which has been chairing the main talks, would then resume its mediation role when the parties reconvened in the town of Machakos to talk about issues such as sharing power and wealth.

The war in Sudan has killed an estimated two million people since it began in 1983. Rebel demands include more autonomy for the south and the separation of state and religion.

Considerable progress has been made at talks and the two sides have signed a ceasefire until March 31. But each has accused the other of violating the truce, and observers say talks on governing a post-war Sudan are at a critical stage.