Sudanese peace talks resume focusing on disputed areas in central Sudan

Mar 04, 2003 (AP)

The Sudanese government and rebels fighting a 20-year civil war resumed peace talks Tuesday, focusing on three disputed areas in central Sudan that have been beset by years of fighting.

The talks, taking place just outside Nairobi, 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.

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

"I want to commend the parties' courageous step in agreeing to negotiate the three conflict areas," said Kenyan mediator Lazarus Sumbeiywo.

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.

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.

"I feel it is time peace was brought home to the people and therefore, challenge you to deliver peace to your people for it is within your reach," Sumbeiywo told the government and the rebel delegations.

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.

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.