Disputed areas top Sudan peace talks agenda

Feb 24, 2003 (Reuters)

Areas of Sudan claimed by both the Khartoum government and southern rebels will top the agenda at a fresh round of peace talks to begin next week, the chief mediator said on Monday.

"On March 4, talks will start under the auspices of Kenya and myself on the issue of the three areas of Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile," chief Kenyan mediator Lazaros Sumbeiywo told newspaper editors in Khartoum.

The talks in Kenya between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which began last year, are seen as offering the best chance yet of ending a 20-year conflict that has killed around two million people in Africa's largest country.

The disputed areas have been part of north Sudan since independence from Britain in 1956 but the SPLA says they are marginalised like the rest of the south, which sees itself as more ethnically African than the Muslim, Arab north.

Sumbeiywo said the two sides had set March 22 as the date for negotiators to move on to power- and wealth-sharing issues and outstanding transitional arrangements.

Those sessions are expected to discuss distribution of government posts, including the presidency.

The two sides agreed last year to a waiver on Islamic law in non-Muslim areas and a six-year transitional period after which the south would vote in a referendum on secession.

Sumbeiywo said the talks had an end-of-May deadline after which agreements would start being implemented.

"June will be a buffer period. July 2003 would be the start of the pre-transitional period, with January 2004 the start of the transitional period," he said.