Peace talks resume on disputed areas

4 March (IRIN)

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) resumed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday. The negotiations will focus on the administration of the three disputed areas of Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains (Southern Kordofan State) and Abyei (also Southern Kordofan).

On Wednesday, separate consultations will be held with each delegation regarding the agenda and timetable of the talks which had not been agreed on, the Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) reported.

The talks would then cover the issues of development in the regions, the economic situation, peace and security, the cease-fire in the Nuba mountains and ways of promoting it into a permanent peace agreement, as well as the possibility of adopting a similar agreement in Southern Blue Nile and Abyei, SUNA quoted the head of the government delegation, Dr Mutrif Siddiq, as saying.

Meanwhile, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) ministerial sub-committee on Sudan said on Sunday that it had expanded the mandate of the IGAD secretariat on peace in Sudan to include the
operations and management of a Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT). The VMT will monitor the ongoing cessation of hostilies agreement between both sides.

The IGAD ministers - from Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda - also agreed that member states should contribute personnel to the VMT, an IGAD statement said.

The current peace negotiations are being held outside the framework of IGAD, which has to date brokered three rounds of talks on wealth and power-sharing in Sudan. The IGAD talks will resume once progress has been
made on the thorny issue of the disputed areas, seen as a key to an overall peace deal in Sudan.

The government insists that because the three areas are geographically located in the north (according to 1956 colonial boundaries), they will not have the option of self-determination.

In November 2002, however, the Nuba people held a convention in which they affirmed their wish to remain within SPLM/A-administered territory, and the people of Southern Blue Nile followed suit in December. The people of Abyei have not held a convention, but are also reported to favour remaining within SPLM/A territory, thereby ensuring their right to opt for self-determination.