Progress at peace talks, says gov't

Jan 14, 2004 (IRIN)

Progress has been made on the future status of southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains at peace talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), according to the government.

"We have achieved quite good progress on southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains, but the question of Abyei is still difficult," said Sa'id Khatib, a government spokesman. "The points of difference are not easy."

He said both sides had reached agreement in principle on the division of powers between the national and state governments in southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains, which would remain part of northern Sudan. "Anything that logically is a matter that concerns more than one state" would be controlled by the national government, while education and other services would fall under the state government's powers.

A "special status" would be awarded to both areas for development and reconstruction, he added.

Under the colonial borders drawn up in 1956, all three contested areas found themselves under the control of northern-dominated administrations.

Regularly attacked by northern militias, denied humanitarian aid, and treated effectively as "second-class citizens" by the ruling classes they have experienced systematic marginalisation and discrimination, according to political analysts.

Observers say the status of oil-rich Abyei, currently controlled by both sides, is one of the most contentious issues to be decided on before a comprehensive peace agreement is possible.

Currently part of western Kordofan in northern Sudan, the SPLM/A is demanding that it be made part of the south by an executive decree, as part of an overall peace deal.

The government, on the other hand, is keen to have Abyei's status decided later on. "We are saying: let us link it to neither north nor south. Let's link it to the presidency, and during the interim period work out a final solution," said Khatib.

A local humanitarian source from Abyei told IRIN that the area had become a key issue because of its large oil reserves and rich agricultural and pastoral lands.

He said a number of intellectuals from Abyei were also in high positions in the SPLM or commanders in the SPLA, whose support the movement wanted to maintain. If they were not satisfied with the outcome of the peace talks, there was also a danger of a rebellion erupting in Abyei, he added.

In a separate development US peace envoy to Sudan, John Danforth, arrived in Naivasha on Wednesday to urge both sides to reach an agreement quickly and to reaffirm US support for the peace process.