Sudanese government and rebels prepare to resume talks on a final peace agreement

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG Associated Press Writer

Kenya, Nov 30, 2003 (AP )

The Sudanese government and southern rebels prepared to resume peace talks Sunday in an effort to hammer out the final details of a comprehensive deal to end the vast country's 20-year civil war.

Only three major issues remain to be solved at the peace talks in Kenya - sharing power; divvying up the country's wealth, especially its growing oil revenues, and administering three disputed areas in central Sudan.

The first few days of talks in the town of Naivasha, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Nairobi, will involve lower-level officials working out the technical aspects of a peace deal, said an official close to the negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and rebel leader John Garang are expected to arrive on Dec. 5 to review the progress of the talks and negotiate a final agreement, the official said.

Sudan's latest conflict erupted in 1983 when southern rebels from the mainly animist and Christian south took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim north. The rebels say they are fighting for greater equality for the south and for southerners to have the right to choose whether to remain part of Sudan.

Twenty years later, the war has claimed more than 2 million lives, mainly because of war-induced famine.

After more than a year of talks, a breakthrough was achieved in September when the government agreed to allow the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army to retain its force in the south, the main area of conflict, for a six-year transitional period.

After meeting Sudanese government and rebel officials in late October, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the warring parties had agreed to remain in negotiations and reach an agreement by he end of December.

Powell said the United States would consider normalizing relations with Sudan if a comprehensive deal is concluded. America closed its embassy in Khartoum in 1996 and has imposed numerous sanctions on Sudan since 1989.

The negotiations, which began in Kenya in July 2002, are being mediated by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development. The United States, Britain and Norway have observers at the talks.