Sudanese rebel leader confident of Khartoum peace agreement

Dec 3 (AFP)

Sudanese rebel leader John Garang on a visit to South Africa Friday expressed confidence that his movement would conclude a peace agreement with the Khartoum government before a UN deadline expires end December.

"We are optimistic about this situation and we have committed ourselves to signing the agreement on time," Garang told reporters after a meeting with South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

His group aims to finalise a final peace deal with Khartoum for southern Sudan.

"I am confident we will conclude and sign the peace agreement in terms of UN Security Council resolution 1574," he said in reference to a resolution passed by the UN powerhouse at a meeting in Nairobi last month.

Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), said he would travel to the Kenyan town of Naivasha on Monday to meet with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha to complete the negotiation process.

"Deputy President Zuma and I discussed what South Africa and Africa can do in the implementation phase," Garang said.

"Africa is already involved in Sudan and there will be more African involvement in the Sudan situation."

His group took up arms in 1983 to demand an equal share of national development in Sudan, an oil-rich country that has been blighted by a civil conflict since its independence from Britain in 1956.

That war has killed at least 1.5 million people and displaced four million others.

More bloodshed came in February 2003 when rebels rose up against Khartoum to demand an end to the alleged marginalisation of their region, one of the poorest in Sudan.

The 20-month-old clashes between Khartoum and two rebel groups in Darfur have claimed up to 70,000 lives and around 1.4 million people have been displaced.