Sudan Govt fails to send delegates to renewed peace talks

Jan 15, 2003 (AP)

The Sudanese government failed to send a delegation to the resumption of peace talks with rebels who are fighting a 20-year civil war in Sudan .

The government, which disagrees with the agenda of the talks, sent only Ali Abdelrehman Nimeri, Sudan's ambassador to Kenya, to the opening of the latest round of the negotiations Wednesday.

Mediators want the talks to focus on the administration of three disputed areas in central Sudan which have been beset by years of conflict - the Abyei area of West Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains area of Southern Kordofan and the Angasana of Blue Nile province.

The Sudanese government, however, wants the talks to carry on from where they ended in November when the peace process was adjourned.

"The three (disputed) areas, just like any other area in the northern part of Sudan , fall out of the focus of the (current peace talks)," Nimeri told the rebel delegation, mediators and foreign diplomats who had gathered for the talks' at a venue just outside Nairobi.

The chief mediator Kenyan Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo later told The Associated Press the talks had begun.

SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje said negotiations were going on between members of the 18-strong rebel delegation, mediators and the Sudanese ambassador.

"It might be a difference of perception between the two sides," Salva Kiir, the SPLA's head of delegation, said at the opening ceremony.

The latest civil war in Sudan broke out in 1983 when southern rebels took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim northern government in a bid to obtain greater autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south.

The latest series of talks to end the war began in July, and were adjourned in November after the two sides agreed to the broad outlines of a power-sharing arrangement.

In July, both sides signed a protocol providing for the separation of state and religion in southern Sudan , and a referendum on self-determination for the south in six years.

The talks are being held under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which groups East African and Horn of Africa nations.

Although often simplified as a religious war, the conflict is also fueled by competition for oil, land and other resources. The conflict, has killed an estimated 2 million people, mainly through war-induced famine and disease, and forced another 4 million to flee their homes.