Peace deal expected by end of 2003

22 October (IRIN)

Both the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) have committed themselves to signing a comprehensive peace deal by the end of the year, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Naivasha, Kenya.

Having spent over an hour in discussions with the two sides, Powell said, "Based on what I have heard today, I believe that a final agreement is within the grasp of the parties." He said the "way is now open to finding a comprehensive solution", but that there was "still a bit more to be done".

"Excellent progress" had been made on the issue of wealth sharing, while power sharing could also be "dealt with in the near future"," he said. But the contested areas of Abyei, southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains would "take most work". Deep-rooted differences of opinion exist on the status of the three areas in a future Sudan. Parts of the three areas are controlled by the government and parts by the SPLA.

The SPLM/A wants southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains to have the right to self-determination, with internationally monitored referenda before the end of a six-year interim period - following the signing of a peace agreement - to decide whether they belong to northern or southern Sudan. For the oil-rich area of Abyei, currently part of Western Kordofan, SPLM/A has asked that a presidential order be issued restoring it to the southern state of Bahr al-Ghazal.

But the government is determined to hold on to the three regions.

Powell said that once a final agreement had been signed, both the government and the SPLM/A would be invited to the White House to endorse it and enable President George W. Bush "to commit the US to assisting in the implementation of an agreement". He added that the US would remain just as committed to implementation as it was to the ongoing peace process.

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha said that both sides had come to Naivasha to find peace. "We are committed and focused and will remain engaged until peace is achieved," he said. "The issues are there and it's not an easy exercise to get them resolved; but with determination and commitment to our people we are going to overcome the difficulties."

SPLM/A Chairman John Garang said: "We are committed to the peace process, we know that our people need peace," His message to the Sudanese people was one of "peace, commitment and determination", he said.

Garang added that they would address the remaining issues, "difficult as they are". He said Powell had come to "nudge" both sides, and that the meeting had brought encouragement and hope which was "very valuable".

"We must find a solution. This is a moment of opportunity that must not be lost," Powell said.