Sudanese peace talks to resume March 4 focusing on disputed areas in central Sudan

By ANDREW ENGLAND Associated Press Writer
Mar 02, 2003 (AP)

The Sudanese government and rebels fighting a 20-year civil war will resume peace talks this week which will focus on three disputed areas in central Sudan that have been beset by years of fighting, Kenya's foreign minister said Sunday.

The talks will begin on Tuesday just outside Nairobi and will center on the administration of the Abyei area of West Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains area of Southern Kordofan and the Angasana of Blue Nile province, said Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka.

In January, the Sudanese government refused to discuss the so-called "conflict areas" because it disagreed with the negotiations' agenda.

The latest series of talks between Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir's government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, began in July and are being held under the auspices of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD.

But the three disputed areas fall outside IGAD's mandate and are to be mediated by Kenya. Once the areas have been discussed, the talks will go back under IGAD's mediation.

Musyoka said the outcome of the talks on the disputed areas will be included in - and solidify - a comprehensive peace agreement.

The latest civil war in Sudan broke out in 1983 when southern rebels 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. Both the rebels and the government want to administer the three disputed areas.

The conflict has killed an estimated 2 million people, mainly through war-induced famine and disease.

Musyoka was speaking at the opening of a meeting of an IGAD subcommittee that is to discuss the progress of the talks.

The committee - which includes officials from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda - will discuss the setting up of a verification and monitoring team that is supposed to monitor a cessation of hostilities agreement the warring parties signed Nov. 18.

Both sides have accused the other of violating the agreement. They agreed to the setting up of the verification team during the last round of talks that ended Feb. 6.

So far, the rebels and the government have agreed to the basics of power and wealth sharing.

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.

Attallah Hamad Bashir, IGAD's secretary general, said both sides are now committed to ending the conflict, which, he said, was a big change.

Both had been "dragging their feet" in the past, Bashir said.