Sudan peace talks fail to get off the ground

Jan 15 (AFP)

Peace talks between the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese government failed to start as planned Wednesday in Kenya, in the absence of the full delegation from Khartoum.

Sudan's delegation leader Ali Abdelrehman Nimeri told the meeting that his delegation was not in Nairobi, because they had not received an invitation to attend.

The special session of peace talks between the Sudan government and the SPLA was due to start in Nairobi on Wednesday to discuss three disputed areas in the centre of Sudan -- Southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba Mountains.

"Our delegation is ready to make arrangements to fly to Nairobi the minute it receives a notification of the meeting," Nimeri said in a statement read to the session, officially opened by new Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka.

But the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) special mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo disagreed, insisting that he had sent the invitation to Khartoum twice.

"IGAD sent the invitation twice, but they still say that they have never recieved it. It means we will have to send the invitation again," IGAD special envoy Sumbeiywo told AFP at the meeting.

"They got the invitation, but they did not want to come because IGAD had included the Abyei, Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) and Southern Blue Nile dispute in the agenda for the next round of talks," an IGAD official, who requested anonymity, said.

But Nimeri insisted that his government was against the special meeting on the three areas until after the main IGAD talks on southern Sudan peace were finalised and had pleaded with the mediators to hold Wednesday's meeting.

"If I were to put my statement in a nutshell, it would be to call for an immediately resumption of the IGAD talks on southern Sudan, and our delegation is ready to fly to Nairobi the minute it receives a notification for the meeting," Nimeri said.

The SPLA also disagreed with Khartoum's contention that it did not receive the invitations.

"They were sent letters of invitation on December 17 and 23 detailing the agenda of the meetings and the programme of action, but they said they have never received any of them," SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje said.

"SPLA is here with its full delegation, observers from Britain, America, Italy, Norway and also an UN representative. They cannot say that they did not get the invitation yet the IGAD meditors sent them," Kwaje pointed out.

Kwaje explained that the delegations were supposed to go back to Machakos to talk about power- and wealth-sharing and security arrangements, but it would be hard to discuss them if the issue of the three regions is not resolved.

"You cannot resolve the problem in Sudan comprehensively unless you address these three areas. The SPLA is willing to go on with the talks anywhere, because we are interested in peace," Kwaje said.

"They just want to jump out of the peace process," Kwaje added.

The SPLA last month claimed that it had won a mandate from the three disputed regions to represent them at the talks.

Khartoum and the SPLA agreed during a first round of talks, held in July in Machakos, that the 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 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.