Peace agreement could be signed "within days" - officials

7 May (IRIN)

The Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) are on the brink of reaching an agreement on the contentious issues of power-sharing and the legal status of the capital, Khartoum, a Sudanese official told IRIN on Friday.

Peace negotiations between the two sides had hit a deadlock over power-sharing and the application of shari'ah in Khartoum. But the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which is coordinating the talks, has been trying to find a basis for compromise.

"We are much closer than we were before. I expect we will sign an agreement on these issues within the next few days," Ahmad Dirdiery, the
Sudanese deputy ambassador to Kenya, where the talks are being held, told IRIN.

The two sides were broadly in agreement on power-sharing and the future status of three disputed areas, namely the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile and oil-rich Abyei. "I expect we will sign protocols on these soon," Samson Kwaje, an SPLM/A spokesman, told IRIN on Friday.

"Our positions are much closer than they have been in a long time. I am encouraged by the way things are moving," Kwaje added. "We are very close but not there yet."

The contentious issue of the legal status of Khartoum had also been resolved, a source close to the talks told IRIN.

The two sides had disagreed over the application of shari'ah in the capital, with he government insisting on the Islamic code continuing to apply there on the basis that the two sides had earlier agreed that it apply throughout the northern part of the country.

The SPLM/A, however, argued that Khartoum was "a special case as the national capital of the whole of Sudan, not just the north, and should
therefore be exempt from shari'ah".

The source said two sides had now agreed that shari'ah continue to apply in Khartoum, "with guarantees to non-Muslims that their religious rights
will not be affected".

According to Kwaje, once these protocols are signed, the talks will take a break "of two to three weeks" to allow for time "to bring together all the
earlier agreements into a comprehensive peace agreement".

Sudan has experienced civil war since 1983 when the SPLM/A took up arms to fight for self-determination in the south. The ongoing talks in the
western Kenyan town of Naivasha, are intended to end the conflict which has affected millions of people.