US envoy calls for more contact between Sudan gov't, rebel heads

Jan 17 (AFP)

US envoy to Sudan John Danforth called Friday for increased contacts between Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir and southern rebel leader John Garang, ahead of a fresh round of talks aimed at ending the north African country's 19-year civil war.

"There would be greater benefit if Beshir and Garang increase contacts between them in order to establish trust, confidence and discuss other technicalities," special envoy John Danforth told a news conference here.

"The peace process would benefit a lot, as it goes along, if there were a lot of communication between the two leaders," he added.

The Sudan government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) agreed during a first round of talks in Kenya in July that the mainly Christian and animist south would have six years of self-rule under the SPLA, after which it would have the right to self-determination.

The second round of talks in Kenya ended in October with the signing of a truce ending hostilities during the negotiations, but there have been violations by both sides, Danforth noted.

"I spoke to both sides and they agreed that international monitoring should be expanded and intensifed to curb any blatant violations of the ceasefire," he said.

A third round of the peace talks begins next week at the Kenyan eastern town of Machakos, after Khartoum relented to pressure and said on Thursday that its delegation for the negotiations would arrive in Kenya January 22.

The talks, originally scheduled for last January, never took place after the government delegation failed to appear, alleging that it did not receive an invitation from the regional mediators, a claim that was strongly denied.

The government also protested the inclusion of southern Blue Nile state, Abyei and the Nuba Mountains in the negotiations, maintaining they were not part of southern Sudan, but the SPLA says the people of those three regions had asked the SPLA to represent them in the talks.