Sudan government to send delegation to Kenya for peace talks

By MOHAMED OSMAN Associated Press Writer
KHARTOUM, Sudan, Jan 16, 2003 (AP)

The Sudanese government Thursday decided to send a delegation to Kenya for peace talks next week aimed at ending the African country's civil war.

The move follows the government's no-show this week at a separate Kenyan-brokered peace forum with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army.

Sudan's chief negotiator Ghazi Salah Eddin Attabani said in a statement the decision to send the delegation for the Jan. 22 talks came after an invitation from Kenyan negotiator Lt. Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo.

Attabani issued the statement after meeting in the Sudanese capital with U.S. peace envoy John Danforth, who earlier held talks with President Omar el-Bashir.

Danforth, speaking to reporters during a press conference in Khartoum, said U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to see progress in realizing peace within three months.

"It is important for the two parties to resume peace talks, real peace talks," Danforth said. "The next three months are very crucial."

Danforth said last week that Washington may stop supporting peace talks if a settlement is not reached within six months.

The Jan. 22 talks are being held under the auspices of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which has been trying to end the war that has claimed more than 2 million lives through fighting and famine since 1983.

Mediators want to discuss three disputed areas in central Sudan 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.

Khartoum, however, wants negotiations to pick up from where they ended last year when the sides agreed to broad outlines of a power-sharing arrangement.

Attabani, the Sudanese negotiator, said the Jan. 22 meeting would not include talks on the disputed zones.

The latest civil war in Sudan broke out in 1983 when the Sudan People's Liberation Army 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.

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.

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.