Sudan peace talks postponed indefinitely: press

Aug 19, 2003 (AFP)

Peace talks in Kenya between Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebels have been postponed indefinitely because the two sides have failed to agree on an agenda, a press report said Tuesday.

The east African mediating body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), decided Monday night to adjourn the negotiations indefinitely after a week of deadlock, the independent Al-Sahafa daily reported from Naneuki, Kenya.

Chief mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo held separate morning and evening sessions with the two negotiating teams Monday but could not persuade them to agree on an agenda, the paper said.

Presidential peace advisor Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani is expected back in Khartoum on Tuesday and the government negotiating team will return the following day, the paper added.

Khartoum refused to negotiate on the basis of an IGAD framework document, while the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) insisted it form the basis of a settlement, a source close to the Naneuki negotiations was quoted as saying.

The government and the SPLA struck a breakthrough accord in July 2002 granting the south the right to self-determination after a six-year transition period and exempting it from Islamic law.

The previous round of talks broke down last month when Khartoum rejected a draft accord on power- and wealth-sharing and security arrangements.

International observers, including the United States and Britain, failed to induce either side to budge from their positions at Naneuki, despite promises to continue negotiations until September 20, a source told Al-Sahafa.

In remarks published Monday, US Africa expert John Prendergast warned that Washington could slap sanctions on the government and cut its ties with the SPLA if the talks failed.

"The party responsible for the failure will face grave consequences," Prendergast, co-director of the Africa Programme of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, told Al-Sahafa.

He blamed the deadlock on the government's dogged rejection of the Nakuru document and the SPLA's rigid adherence to it, the daily reported Tuesday.

However, he called on IGAD, as well as the United States, Britain and Norway to pressure the two sides into returning to the negotiating table.

An Africa policy analyst under former US president Bill Clinton, Prendergast said he favoured the document as an introduction to talks without discussing it in detail.

Separately, the Kenyan government confirmed negotiations between Khartoum and the SPLA over the regions of Abyei, Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains would go ahead as scheduled on August 22, Al-Sahafa reported.

Sudan's civil war between the Arab Muslim north and the mainly Christian and animist south is the oldest armed conflict in Africa. It has claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced four million people.