Sudanese VP, rebel leader arrive in Kenya for final peace talks

Dec 6, 2003 (Xinhua)

Sudanese First Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and John Garang, leader of the main rebel Sudan People' s Liberation Army (SPLA), arrived in Kenya on Saturday to join the peace talks which are in their final stages.

Speaking on arrival, Taha said he was optimistic of a final settlement of this conflict. He noted that both the government and the SPLA are working very closely to reach an agreement.

"We hope to reach an agreement very soon. What we have done previously has paved way for easier settlement of this conflict," Taha told reporters at the airport.

The two leaders first began their face-to-face negotiations in October.

During this round of talks, the parties are expected to agree on the contentious issue of sharing of the revenue from the oil deposits in the south. Other issues to feature include the status of the three central states, Abyei, Blue Nile state and the Nuba Mountains.

Kenyan Special Envoy for Peace in the Sudan and Chief Mediator Lazarus Sumbeiywo said the two sides are close to reaching a peace deal, and are expected to wrap up the talks by early January 2004.

The Sudanese civil war started as the SPLA took up arms fighting for self-determination in the southern part of the country in 1983.

The conflict has left some two million people dead, mostly through war-induced famine and disease.

The Sudanese government and the SPLA began peace talks last July in Kenya, aiming at ending the longest civil war on the continent, under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a seven-member regional group in East Africa, consisting of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, Eritrea, Tanzania and the Sudan.

Both parties have committed to reaching a final deal by the end of this year during the ongoing peace talks held in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, about 90 km northwest of the capital Nairobi.

Kenya is the current chairman of the IGAD ministerial sub- committee on the Sudan issues.