US 'can't rush' peace in Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan
Mar 14 (AP)

Sudan's foreign minister said the government would not rush peace negotiations to meet a US deadline as a hurried deal could harm the country's interests, media reported on Sunday.

Mustafa Osman Ismail was responding to a US congressional report last week that suggested a framework on outstanding issues could be reached by Tuesday, and that a failure to achieve progress could mean outside efforts to intervene.

"Sudan will not accept an unfair deal," Ismail said in comments carried by the official Sudan Media Centre and Al-Anba daily. "The government will not accept any peace deal that will not be lasting."

He said the government was keen to reach a just and a lasting peace after 21 years of civil war, but worried that the imposition of a deadline could lead to a weak deal or the collapse of the talks.

"The government is getting ready for any eventuality now," Ismail said.

Severe sanctions

He did not elaborate, but officials in the past have expressed concern that the slowing or collapse of peace talks could lead to escalation of war, or the US implementation of the Sudan Peace Act, which could impose severe sanctions on the side deemed to be holding up the talks.

Ongoing peace talks aimed at settling Sudan's brutal 21-year civil war have made erratic progress during their 19 months. Discussion is focused on the status of three disputed areas, Abyei, the Nuba Mountains area and Southern Blue Nile region, as well as the sharing of political and administrative power.

In his report to Congress following a visit to the region in February, Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Charles Snyder suggested those major issues could be resolved by March 16, followed by a short break to work out security arrangements and logistics for implementing a peace accord.

Snyder said the United States, which has observer status at the talks, has urged the two sides to move forward quickly on an agreement.

"Should they prove unable to do so, it may become necessary - as a last resort - for the United States, in concert with the Troika and IGAD, to table ideas to break the impasse," Snyder said, referring to Britain and Norway, also observers, and the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, which is leading the negotiations.

Kamal Hassan Bakheet, editor-in-chief of Al-Adhwa daily, said the two sides should reject the US deadline, calling it "flagrant and open intervention in Sudanese affairs".

"When and if peace is achieved as a result of pressure and on American conditions, will not be a fair and just peace, it will be a result of using the stick, it will not be a lasting or fair peace deal," he wrote in Sunday's paper.

Sudan's civil war broke out in 1983, when the Sudan People's Liberation Army took up arms against the Arab and Muslim-dominated northern government, fighting for a greater share of the country's wealth and the rights of largely animist and Christian southerners.