Kenya, Khartoum optimistic for peace deal on south Sudan by year-end

Dec 20 (AFP)

Kenya and Sudan's foreign ministers voiced optimism Monday that a final peace agreement between Khartoum and southern Sudanese rebels could be reached before the end of the year.

"We are optimistic to a high degree that the negotiations in Naivasha will be concluded before the end of the month," visiting Chirau Ali Mwakwere said at a joint news conference with Sudanese counterpart Mustafa Osman Ismail.

Ismail was also upbeat about the chances of deal, despite there being only 11 days left before the end of 2004.

"We are optimistic the peace agreement will be signed in the set time," he said, after the Kenyan foreign minister briefed him on the peace talks.

Ismail said the last stumbling blocks in Naivasha were the naming of a capital for the South Kordofan state and a date for general elections.

Kenya has been hosting talks in Naivasha aimed at finding a comprehensive settlement to the 21-year-old civil war, Africa's longest-running conflict.

Leading the talks for the government is Vice President Ali Osman Taha while the rebels are represented by their historical leader, Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army chief John Garang.

"We ready for celebrating the agreement and are just waiting for a signal from Ali Osman Taha and John Garang," said Mwakwere.

"Signals incoming from Naivasha are so encouraging that we have begun to talk about issues that will follow the peace agreement, like the repatriation of refugees," he said.

The Kenyan foreign minister, who arrived in Khartoum to discuss the peace process on Sunday and met President Omar al-Beshir, said that the counting of south Sudanese refugees had already started in Kenya and elsewhere.