Powell calls Sudanese president as peace talks go down to wire

Dec 30 (AFP)

US Secretary of State Colin Powell called Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir as talks with rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels narrowed in on a deal to end a civil war.

Powell called Beshir in one of his first official duties after returning to work at the State Department following a prostate cancer operation two weeks ago, said spokesman Adam Ereli.

The United States on Monday called on both parties to close a deal before the end of the year.

Khartoum's delegation at the talks in Naivasha, Kenya, is led by Vice President Ali Osman Taha, and the rebel team is led by SPLA chief John Garang.

Powell planned to call both men later on Tuesday, said a senior State Department official on condition of anonymity.

His approach was to tell both sides, "don't let this slip through your grasp," the official said.

Beshir was quoted by the official Sudanese daily Al-Anbaa as saying Tuesday that he expected a deal to be reached by next week.

"Next week could see the signing of a final agreement on the questions of sharing of power, sharing of resources and the three contested areas," Beshir was quoted as saying.

He noted that negotiators had already reached agreement on the relationship between religion and state, a referendum on independence for the south, and on security and military issues, adding that they had also made substantial progress on the resource-sharing issue.

They are essentially focusing on how to share power during an anticipated transitional period of self-rule for the south, and the control of three disputed areas.

The war in Sudan, which erupted in 1983, is the longest on the African continent. It has pitted the south, where most observe traditional African religions and Christianity, against the Muslim, Arabized north.

The conflict has claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced an estimated four million people.