Sudan foes reach deal on security, joint military

Sept 24, 2003 (dpa)

Sudan's government and the rebels who have fought against it for 20 years struck a deal Wednesday on security arrangements for the war-torn south of the country, a mediator said.

Negotiators for the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) reached "a security agreement about redeployment of forces and a joint command structure," said the Kenyan mediator Lazarus Sumbeiywo.

"It means a great step forward," said Sumbeiywo, describing the security arrangements as "one of four outstanding major issues."

He said a formal signing of the agreement could come as early as Thursday.

Officials close to the talks said the agreement in principle calls for the withdrawal of most government troops from the south of the country, the main theatre of the war.

Some rebel forces would be deployed to the north to provide security for SPLM officials, a small joint military force would be created, and both sides would eventually reduce troop stregth to peacetime levels.

The deal affirms the existence of two separate armies, said SPLM spokesman Samson Kwaje. He said the government will be required to reduce its troop presence in southern Sudan to less than 20 per cent of current levels.

An SPLM-led force "will be in charge of the security of the south," he said.

A government official described the agreement as "a breakthrough on military and security arrangements and about the deployment of troops during the transitional period" but would not discuss specifics.

The deal was brokered in a hotel on Kenya's Lake Naivasha during face-to-face talks between SPLA commander John Garang and Sudanese vice-president Ali Osman Taha, the latest stage in a renewed push for peace that began in 2002.

However, the two sides remain far from reaching a comprehensive peace deal, with power-sharing, wealth-sharing and the status of three contested areas on the north-south border still at issue.

Sudan's civil war is Africa's longest-running conflict, raging since 1983. It ostensibly pits the black African people of the south against the Arab north, but the conflict is equally a battle for resources and power between the southern-based rebels and the Islamic government in Khartoum.

An estimated two million people have died in the war, mainly from illnesses and famine brought about by displacement.

The two sides reached an agreement in July 2002 guaranteeing the southern Sudanese freedom from Islamic law and offering them a future vote on secession from the north.

Talks toward the comprehensive peace deal have made only sporadic progress since then. A general ceasefire was agreed in October and remains in place, but no further substantive agreements had been reached until Wednesday's deal on security.

Negotiations on the outstanding issues are set to continue immediately, the two sides and the mediator said.