Home | News    Saturday 28 February 2004

Sudan rebels, govt extend truce as talks progress

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NAIROBI, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Sudan’s government and main rebel group signed a one-month truce extension on Saturday amid hopes the extra time would help them resolve two issues blocking a final agreement on ending Africa’s longest civil war.

Rebel leader John Garang and Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha resumed negotiations last week after adjourning last month to permit Taha to go on the Muslim haj pilgrimage. They will try to forge agreement on who rules three contested areas claimed by both sides and on how to share power.

"I expect they will agree on the two outstanding issues even before the end of this current session of the talks on March 16," Kenyan Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the chief mediator in the peace process, said by telephone from Naivasha.

"I don’t expect the final peace agreement to be reached by the end of the coming month. But with the two outstanding issues out of the way, what will be left are details on security arrangements and modalities of implementation and so on."

Two decades of war in the oil-exporting country have pitted rebels from the largely animist and Christian south against the Islamist government in Khartoum and its forces in the Arab-speaking north.

Disputes over oil, ethnicity and ideology have complicated the conflict that has killed an estimated two million people.

Africa’s biggest country earns about $2 billion a year from its growing oil output of about 250,000 barrels a day, riches for an impoverished nation of 30 million that only began petroleum exports in the late 1990s.

A deal signed in January provides a roughly equal division of oil revenues for Khartoum and a yet-to-be-created governing authority in the rebels’ southern bastion when the war ends.

The accord to extend the truce until the end of March was signed by representatives of the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) at a brief ceremony in Naivasha, some 90km (55 miles) north west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The talks began in early 2002 but do not cover a separate rebellion in western Sudan which shows little sign of abating.

Western Sudan rebels said on Saturday they had killed 60 government soldiers and allied Arab militia on Friday in a settlement called Dumma, between Nyala and El Fasher towns.

"They were coming to attack us but we were able to destroy them. Up to now we are chasing them," Ahmed Yagoub, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) spokesman said by telephone.

One rebel soldier was killed in the fighting, he said.

Sudan’s armed forces spokesman was unavailable for comment.

The SLA is one of two rebel groups that launched a revolt in the western Darfur region a year ago, accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid area and arming Arab militias to loot and burn African villages.

The United Nations warns of a humanitarian crisis with about a million Sudanese fleeing the fighting.

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