Sudanese VP returns to Khartoum for consultations over deadlocked peace talks

April 17 (Xinhua)

Sudanese First Vice President AliOsman Taha, head of the Sudanese government delegation to peace talks with rebels, returned Khartoum on Saturday for consultationswith other officials over the talks, a Sudanese government official has confirmed.

"Taha left this morning for Khartoum for further consultations but other delegates are still negotiating (here), Taha will be back in two or three days," a Sudanese government official who declined to be identified told Xinhua by telephone from the Kenyantown Naivasha, where the talks are taking place.

During this round of talks, expected to be the last one, Taha and John Garang, leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), have been negotiating in Naivasha, some 90 km northwest of the capital Nairobi since February, aiming at ending the longest civil war on the African continent.

The official said Taha and Garang have called on mediators to help them break an impasse in the talks to pave way for the signing of the peace agreement.

"Since the matter is in the hands of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), our vice president has taken a few days off to seek consultation with authorities in Khartoum to help break the deadlock and also to attend to certain matters in Khartoum," the official said.

However, SPLA spokesman Yasser Arman told Xinhua by telephone that the current impasse has been brought by the government delegation who have refused to budge on its insistence that Islamic law apply to all residents of Khartoum during a six-year transition period.

Meanwhile, Arman said that "the government side has not softened their stance on political power sharing in two disputed areas in Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile and this is prolonging the talks and making it difficult to finalize a peace agreement which we are almost reaching."

The Sudan civil war started in 1983 when the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army took arms fighting for self-determination in the southern part of the country.

The conflict has left some 2 million people dead, mostly through war-induced famine and disease.

The Sudanese government and the SPLA began peace talks in March1994 in Kenya, under the auspices of IGAD, a seven-member regionalgroup in east Africa, consisting of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia and the Sudan.