Sudanese peace talks resume with three difficult issues to tackle

17 Feb (AP)

Sudanese government and rebel negotiators resumed talks Tuesday to end 21 years of conflict with three difficult issues to tackle.

Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, returned to Naivasha, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Nairobi, after a three-week break for some government negotiators to go on the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, said the rebel's spokesman Yasir Arman.

"We're fully prepared to reach a comprehensive settlement and we think it is high time to resolve the remaining issues and the Sudanese people are waiting anxiously for this agreement. We think the remaining issues are not more difficult than security or wealth sharing," said Arman.

The remaining obstacles to a peace agreement -- all potential deal-breakers -- are the composition of a transitional administration, the fate of three disputed areas in central Sudan, and whether the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, should be governed under Islamic law.

Last month the two sides agreed to split net oil revenue equally during a six-year transition period, set up a monetary system allowing for Islamic banking in the north and Western banking in the south, and introduce a new national currency.

Currently, all Sudan's major banks are run under Islamic law, which forbids most forms of interest.

In September the government and rebels agreed on what is called security arrangements: to keep separate armies and have "integrated" forces in Khartoum and three conflict areas in central Sudan.

The war erupted in 1983 when southern rebels 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. More than 2 million people have perished, mainly through war-induced famine.

In July 2002, shortly after the peace process began, the parties agreed to a six-year transition period during which the south will have a regional administration. After that period, southerners will vote in a referendum on whether to secede.

Since early 2003, there has been an insurgency in western Sudan where rebels, who call themselves the Sudan Liberation Army, are fighting Sudanese government troops and government-backed militias. The rebels are demanding a greater share in power and better services for the region, as well as military control. More than 750,000 people have fled the fighting.