"Chances are good" for peace agreement in Sudan, U.N. says

New York
Dec. 14 (dpa)

The U.N. special envoy for Sudan Jan Pronk said Tuesday that talks to end the 21-year-old war in southern Sudan were progressing and negotiators were hoping for a peace agreement by December 31.

Pronk said at U.N. headquarters that "chances are good" that the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) might reach the much sought after settlement that would also serve as a model to end the conflict in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman and SPLA leader John Garang were holding talks in Naivasha, Kenya, while in Abuja, Nigerian officials were mediating talks to end the conflict in Darfur.

Pronk said he was already preparing a plan for the U.N. Security Council to deploy a peacekeeping operation in Sudan with up to 10,000 troops. He said if the peace agreement is reached, and a peacekeeping operation is approved by the Security Council, they could be deployed in the first six months of 2005 and stay there for six years until a referendum is held to decide on the future government in Sudan.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed," Pronk said. "We have offered assistance (in peace talks), but they said they want to do it themselves."

The U.N. last month appealed for 1.5 billion dollars in development and humanitarian aid for Sudan in 2005, of which 620 million dollars is to go to Darfur.

Pronk said political will and the capacity to reach a peace agreement that would end the conflict between Khartoum and southern Sudan, and the war in Darfur, is badly needed. The appeal for 1.5 billion dollars would be an incentive for the warring parties to move forward and settle their differences on the negotiating tables, both
in Naivasha and Abuja.

Pronk said Garang has a self-imposed deadline of December 23 to reach a peace agreement with Khartoum because he wants to celebrate Christmas. The U.N. envoy said a peace momentum has been picking up since the 15 Security Council members held a special session in Nairobi in mid-November to push for a comprehensive peace in Sudan.

If the two sides at Naivasha reach an agreement, Pronk said he would expect the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Sudanese parties to meet around January 10 to sign it.

But he warned that the peace agreement would be possible only if the five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - are united to solve the problems in Sudan.

The comprehensive peace settlement would deal with all aspects and the root causes of the conflicts in Sudan, which would requirement a huge financial backing from the international community, he said.