Sudan Govt, SPLA Agree on Key Issues; Darfur Region Talks Stall

7 May 2004 (AFP)

Sudan’s government and main rebel group have reached agreements on power sharing and the status of three disputed regions, key outstanding issues in marathon peace talks, the Kenyan mediator said yesterday.

“There has been very good progress, they have agreed on packages on power sharing and the conflict areas,” Lazaro Sumbeiywo told AFP by phone from venue of the negotiations in Naivasha, northwest of Nairobi.

“But they have asked for four to five days in order to sign something. Now what is remaining are details on security arrangements (during a postwar interim period) and implementation modalities,” added Sumbeiywo, who declined to divulge the details of the agreements.

“Generally they have agreed on the key issues, now the technical committees are working on the finalizing issues, which of course may take days,” an official from the mediation, who did not want to be named, told AFP. “Of course in these kind of talks, by experience, it is when it has been signed that one is to say things are finished,” the official added.

Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang began a series of face-to-face negotiations in September last year. Lower-level discussions aimed ending a civil war that broke out in 1983 were launched in Kenya in 2002.

The latest deals center on the administration of three disputed regions - Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile - as well as the sharing of political and administrative posts as well as whether the capital Khartoum would be free from Islamic law or not. While the disputed areas are not strictly part of southern Sudan, the SPLA claims to represent the people of the three regions.

Meanwhile, attempts by mediators in Chad to organize direct talks between rebels from the western Darfur region and the government have bogged down over Khartoum’s refusal to allow international observers to attend the negotiations, a rebel chief said yesterday.

“There is nothing new. We are still at the same point. The government still refuses to meet in the presence of the international community,” the leader of the delegation representing the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (MJE), Abubker Hamid Nour, told AFP by telephone from the
Chadian capital N’djamena.

“We will never hold discussions without the presence of the international community. The international community bearing witness to the talks is very important to us,” he said.

In another development, a United Nations mission to investigate allegations of widespread atrocities by government-backed militia in Darfur region began work yesterday, a spokeswoman said. “The technical fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in Darfur is starting today,” said Annick Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the United Nations at its European headquarters in Geneva.

“The mission will start in Chad and will interview refugees from Darfur, and will visit Sudan later,” she said in a note. But Stevenson later told AFP that the mission had not been given the green light yet by Khartoum, and the UN was continuing negotiations to try to gain access to western Sudan.

Government-backed militia have been killing, raping and looting local inhabitants from four local ethnic groups and systematically forcing them out of their villages, according to Human Rights Watch and UN aid workers in the region who witnessed some attacks.