Sudan peace talks resume in Kenya, under pressure to reach deal

by Bogonko Bosire
Feb 17 (AFP)

The Khartoum government and Sudan's main rebel group on Tuesday resumed peace talks in Kenya aimed at ending 21 years of devastating civil war, the chief mediator said.

"The talks have resumed and we are hopeful that we are going to reach peace this time round," Lazaro Sumbeiywo, a retired Kenyan general, told AFP by phone from the talks' venue in Naivasha, 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of the capital, Nairobi.

Sumbeiywo said after the opening ceremony that Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka held consulations with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha, who leads the government delegation, and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang.

The two leaders, who are meeting for their fourth face-to-face round, suspended the talks on January 26 to allow Taha to attend the Hajj pilgramage.

Negotiations between Taha and Garang, scheduled to end on March 16, will focus on the remaining issues of the status of three disputed areas, namely Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile, as well as sharing of political and administrative power.

While they are not strictly part of south Sudan, the SPLA claims to represent the people of these areas.

"There are some agreements in the Southern Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, they are now working on the remaining issues," said an official in the mediation, who did not want to be named.

Musyoka, who has been played a leading mediation role, told the opening forum that time had come for the two leaders to deliver lasting peace for Sudan, officials in the closed door meeting said.

"Kalonzo challenged... carefully pressured them that time has come for them to reach peace," said one official. "Garang and Taha expressed their desire to reach peace as soon as possible."

The vice president and rebel chief failed to make a much-hyped December 31, 2003 deadline to clinch a comprehensive peace accord.

SPLA spokesman Yasser Arman told AFP that the rebel movement felt strongly that it was possible to resolve the issues in the current round.

"Garang said that he was ready to deliver peace anytime and that the issues, if handled with the seriousness they deserve, would be resolved in the current round," Arman explained.

"The government is determined to reach peace," Ahmed Dirdiery, one of Khartoum's top negotiators, said on Monday.

On Monday, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told the negotiators not to fail hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees who want to return
home by letting the current signs of hope slip away.

Khartoum and the rebels have already signed an agreement on a 50-50 split of the country's wealth, particularly oil revenues.

In 2002, Khartoum and the SPLA struck a breakthrough accord granting the south the right to self-determination after a six-year transition period, and last September both sides reached a deal on transitional security, under which the government would withdraw its troops from the south.

The war in Sudan, rated as Africa's longest after Angola's civil war ended, erupted in 1983 and pitted the south, where most observe traditional African religions and Christianity, against the Muslim, Arabized north.

The conflict and war-related famine and disease have claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced an estimated four million people.