Khartoum, rebels extend ceasefire, as US mounts pressure for final deal

Feb 28 (AFP)

The Sudan government and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels on Saturday signed an agreement extending an ongoing ceasefire by a month, as the United States mounted pressure on both sides to reach a final peace deal.

"The two sides have today (Saturday) signed an extension of the ceasefire from March 1 to 31," an official told AFP by telephone from the peace talks venue in Naivasha, northwest of the capital Nairobi.

The extension was signed by Idris Abdelgadir for Khartoum and Nhial Deng Nhial for the SPLA, the same day acting US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder held talks in Naivasha with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and SPLA leader John Garang.

"Snyder held talks with both leaders, apparently pushing them to reach a comprehensive peace deal soon," said the official, who declined to be named.

SPLA spokesman Yasser Arman and Sudan's deputy charge de affairs Ahmed Diediery, who are both delegates, confirmed the meeting and
reiterated their sides' commitment to reach a final deal.

Taha and Garang, who resumed their fourth round of face-to-face talks on February 17, aimed at ending 21 years of devastating civil war, are currently focusing on the remaining issues on the status of three disputed regions -- 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.

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 concluded an agreement to grant the south the right to self-determination after a six-year transition period.

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, erupted in 1983 to end domination of the mainly Chritian and animist south by the Arabised, Muslim north.

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