Sudan peace talks continue after parties fail to reach agreement on outstanding issues

By ANDREW ENGLAND Associated Press Writer
Dec 19, 2003 (AP)

Talks intended to end the 20-year civil war in Sudan are making good progress and will continue until the Sudanese government and rebels achieve a comprehensive peace agreement, the chief mediator said Friday.

The latest session of negotiations between the warring parties began in the Kenyan town of Naivasha on Nov. 20 and had been expected to adjourn Friday for the Christmas holidays.

Mediators and delegates had hoped that the rebels and government would have reached at least a partial agreement on some of the outstanding issues by then, but sources close to the talks said they were not ready to sign any agreement by Friday.

Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the chief mediator, told The Associated Press the negotiations were continuing and would do so "until a final agreement" was reached.

He said the parties were discussing all the outstanding issues and were making "very good" progress.

Before a comprehensive agreement can be reached, the parties have to agree on the sharing of the wealth of Africa's largest nation - particularly oil revenue - during a six-year transition period, rebel representation in a transitional government, National Assembly and civil service, and the administration of three disputed areas in central Sudan.

The sources said the negotiations, which are being led by Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and rebel leader John Garang, have been focusing on wealth-sharing.

Taha and Garang have been leading the negotiations since September and achieved a major breakthrough that month by agreeing that the SPLA should retain its forces in the south during the six-year transition period.

In October, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met Garang and Taha in Naivasha, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Nairobi, and called on the sides to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year. The parties have called that deadline too optimistic, but Sumbeiywo said it remained the goal.

The current 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.

The war has claimed more than 2 million lives, mainly due to war-induced famine, and has wreaked havoc across impoverished southern Sudan.

Shortly after the negotiations began in July 2002, the parties agreed to a six-year transition period after which southerners will vote in a referendum on whether the south should secede.