Bush urges Sudan to sign peace deal ending Africa's longest war

Dec 30 (AFP)

US President George W. Bush urged his Sudanese counterpart to sign a peace deal aimed at ending a 21-year civil war in the south of the country, the official SUNA news agency reported Thursday.

"We hope that the imminent signing of the peace agreement in Naivasha will be an incentive for reaching peace all over the Sudan and a basis for firm ties between our two peoples," SUNA quoted Bush as saying in his message to Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir.

Khartoum and the main southern rebel group are battling in negotiations in the Kenyan town of Naivasha to clinch a final peace agreement by a Friday deadline to end Africa's longest-running conflict.

In a message to mark the anniversary of Sudan's independence from Britain on January 1, 1956, Bush said he hoped Beshir would take "important and final" steps for an agreement.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail said it was hoped the negotiations between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) would be wrapped up before Friday.

"Contacts are maintained between Khartoum and Nairobi and the hope still exists that round of talks will come to and end and the peace agreement be signed on time," Ismail was quoted as saying by SUNA.

The civil war erupted in 1983 when the rebels rose up against Khartoum to end Arab and Muslim domination and marginalisation of the black, animist and Christian south. Since then at least 1.5 million people have been killed and four million others displaced.

The Naivasha deal does not cover another conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, where tens of thousands of people have died and 1.6 million others displaced in almost two years, but Sudan watchers have said it will go a long way to improving the atmosphere for Darfur peace talks.