End of first round of talks on disputed areas

March 19, 2003 (IRIN)

Key talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA/M) on the disputed areas of the Nuba mountains, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei has achieved "limited progress", Kenya's special envoy to the talks, Lazarus Sumbeiywo, said on Wednesday.

In a statement issued at the end of the talks in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, he said the parties had held an "earnest and frank discussion".

"Most importantly, the delegates from these areas were able to discuss with each other - for the first time since 1994 - their concerns, issues, causes and possible solutions to the conflict," Sumbeiywo stressed.

The spokesman at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi, Muhammad Ahmad Dirdeiry, told IRIN the negotiations marked "a good beginning" and had "kickstarted the process very successfully".

Most of the time was spent "hammering out the modalities", including the agenda, guiding principles and format for further negotiations, he said.

Regarding Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains, the negotiating teams had managed to identify and document the root causes of the dispute, he noted. "The parties are fully aware of the issues now and are in a better position to negotiate."

Abyei had proved more difficult, as a dispute had arisen regarding its geographical boundaries, he said.

The negotiations were conducted in three separate committees, representing the interests of each side, and chaired by a representative from each area.

On 15 March, both sides agreed to extend the mandate of the US-backed Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) for a year. They also signed an extension until 31 March 2004 to the Agreement to Protect Non-combatant Civilians and Civilian Facilities.

Sumbeiywo added that the donor community would be meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, in early April to map out ways of facilitating developmental activities in Sudan, which would come into place once a comprehensive peace agreement had been signed.

The next round of talks on the three areas, which fall outside the framework of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mandate, would begin "shortly", he added.