Sudan govt, southern rebels close to deal-mediators

April 6 (Reuters)

Sudan's government and southern rebels are close to agreement on two outstanding issues in peace talks aimed at ending a 20-year civil war, Kenyan mediators said on Tuesday.

Talks between the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in Kenya had stalled in recent weeks over the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, and the issue of power sharing.

"They have made very good progress...a protocol on the conflict areas and power sharing may be signed very soon," chief mediator Lazarus Sumbeiywo said. He however did not give a date.

The signing of the protocol would clear the way for the inking of a full peace deal, mediators say. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told parliament on Monday a final agreement would be signed soon, but did not say when.

The two-decade war which broadly pits Sudan's Islamic government in the north against rebels in the mainly animist and Christian south and has claimed some two million lives.

Sumbeiywo said Sudan's first vice president Ali Osman Taha and SPLA leader John Garang were discussing the outstanding issues of Abyei's status and arrangements for power sharing as one package, rather than individually.

The United States last month put forward a proposal in which Abyei's oil revenues would be split between the government in the north, southern rebels and local tribes.

The sides have already reached agreement on two other contested areas -- the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile.

Kenya's Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka told Reuters that a luncheon that was to be hosted by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki for Taha and Garang on Monday had been postponed to allow the leaders to wind up their discussions.

"The two leaders have asked for three more days to wind up, before they meet the president. They are very close to a deal and I am optimistic," Musyoka said.

So far, the parties have signed a wealth sharing deal which splits oil revenues equally during a six-year transition period and sets up a monetary system allowing for Islamic banking in the north and a western banking system in the south.

They have also signed an agreement on security arrangements agreeing to separate armies with integrated forces in some parts of the country.

While the government negotiates peace with southern rebels, it is fighting two other rebel groups in the western region of Darfur in a year-old conflict which the U.N. says has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.