It's now or never for peace deal, says think tank

16 September (IRIN)

The past two weeks have seen the highest-level and most important meetings between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the last twenty years, yielding high hopes for a peace deal, according to the think-tank, International Crisis Group.

While the process was now "delicately poised between success and failure" and both sides needed to become more flexible, the key decisions-makers were all present at the negotiating table, and good proposals were being put forward, said John Prendergast, ICG Africa Programme Co-Director. "All of the excuses for non-agreement have been stripped bare," he said, adding that SPLM/A leader John Garang and Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha had already had 25 hours of unprecedented face-to-face discussions.

No agreements have been reached yet on any of the key issues of security, and power- and wealth-sharing arrangements for the six-and-a-half-year
interim period following the signing of an agreement. The contested areas of Southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba mountains, which are technically part of the north but seek some autonomy, have still not been discussed in any detail. But both sides were leaving behind their polarised positions and had begun the all-important "horse-trading", he said.

Security issues are widely held to be the key to a comprehensive peace deal, and in particular arrangements governing the co-existence of the
national army and the SPLA, as well as their partial integration.

Warning that hard-line elements on both sides could still spoil the momentum, Prendergast said if the talks collapsed within the next week or two, and there was a return to war, it would be due to the failure of specific individuals.

He added that if a deal was not struck this time around, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation, could also fall apart. "This may be the last IGAD dance," he said.