Sudan peace talks resume to tackle oil wealth

By Nita Bhalla
Jan 23, 2003 (Reuters)

The Sudan government and rebels resumed peace talks in Kenya on Thursday, but tough bargaining lies ahead if the two sides are to end a 20-year-long conflict that has cost two million lives.

Mediators appealed for compromise at the start of the talks, whose January 15 resumption had been delayed by a dispute over the agenda, while political analysts predicted a quick consensus on wealth and power distribution would prove difficult.

"You must remember always that negotiating is not about what one wants, but what one can live with," chief mediator Lazarus Sumbeiywo told the opening session.

"Let us keep in our minds that the welfare of an entire nation and its people should not be sacrificed at the altar of personal ambitions," he said.

An estimated two million people have died in Sudan's war which began in 1983. The 1993 census put the country's population at 26 million.

The rebels based in the south, which is mostly animist with some Christian and Muslims, have been fighting for more autonomy from the mainly Muslim north.

The latest round of talks, under way in the Nairobi suburb of Karen, is the third in a series of negotiations which began in July under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional body.

Mediators say the discussions between rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and government will tackle key issues including the presidency, allocation of power in the national assembly, civil service, and the distribution of ministries.

The controversial issue of distributing of Sudan's oil wealth will also be tackled in the two-week meeting.


"These are tough issues and the SPLA have ambitious demands. They want 60 percent of the power, as well as 40 percent of Sudan's oil revenues. It will be difficult for Khartoum to accept this," said Professor Medhane Tadesse, a Horn of Africa analyst based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

One Nairobi based analyst, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters that while headway had been made, a deal was far from being a foregone conclusion.

"It's still the furthest that they have gone, and the most serious peace process there has been," he said. "A lot of progress has been made. But it is looking shakier than it was this time last month."

The talks were postponed last week when the Sudanese government refused to send a delegation from Khartoum, saying that they had not agreed to discuss the status of three disputed areas which had been placed on the agenda.

Mediators say both parties have since agreed that the status of the disputed Nuba, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei areas will be discussed at a later date.

The talks produced a major breakthrough in July when both sides agreed to let the south hold a referendum on independence following a six-year transition period.

The second phase of talks in December ended with the two parties agreeing to extend a ceasefire until March 31, but both sides have accused the other of violating the agreement.