Mbeki visits Sudan for rebuilding talks ahead of key peace pact

Dec 30 (AFP)

South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Sudan on Thursday to discuss post-war rebuilding ahead of a peace pact expected to be signed by Khartoum and the main rebel group to end two decades of conflict.

"You have come with the signs of peace ... The peace agreement will be signed tomorrow (Friday)," Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir reportedly told Mbeki upon his arrival in Khartoum.

The government and the main southern rebel group on Thursday agreed on the last issues in their lengthy peace talks in Kenya, paving the way to signing a comprehensive peace deal to end Africa's longest-running conflict.

Mbeki's high-powered entourage includes Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and other cabinet members, according to South African officials.

South Africa currently chairs an African Union (AU) committee on rebuilding war-affected areas in Sudan.

Mbeki's three-day visit comes as Khartoum and the main southern rebel group were said Thursday to have agreed on final issues, including a permanent ceasefire, that were standing in the way of a peace agreement.

The agreements mark the end of sticking points in the peace talks, which started in Kenya in early 2002, and pave the way for the drafting of a final peace agreement to end 21 years of war.

The Sudan war erupted in 1983 when the southern rebels rose up against Khartoum to end Arab and Muslim domination and marginalisation of the black, animist and Christian south.

The war and its effects have killed at least 1.5 million people and displaced four million others in the former British colony that got its independence in 1956.