Home | News    Saturday 20 March 2004

Southern Sudan rebels accept U.S. proposal on conflict region

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NAIROBI, March 20 (Reuters) - Southern Sudanese rebels said on Saturday they had accepted U.S. proposals on how to resolve a dispute over an oil-rich region in Sudan in a bid to revive talks aimed at ending a 20-year civil war.

But the government said it would only consider the U.S. proposal after it had received a response from the rebels on new suggestions of its own it presented on Monday after consultations with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum.

"Until we see the SPLA’s (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) response to our position, it would be premature to say whether the American proposals will be helpful in the negotiations or not," said a government spokesman.

The latest round of talks between Sudan’s first vice president Ali Osman Taha and SPLA leader John Garang have been held up by the dispute over the central oil-rich Abyei region.

The U.S. proposes that once a peace deal is reached Abyei should have its own government and belong to both the north and the south of Sudan.

The proposal, presented to both sides by special U.S. envoy John Danforth on Friday, says the region’s oil revenues would be split with 50 percent going to Khartoum and 42 percent to the southern rebels, with the remainder spit between local tribes.

"The proposal put forward is an acceptable compromise," said an SPLA spokesman. "If we are to choose between having a middle ground or collapse of the talks, we definitely choose the middle ground."

He said the SPLA had given its written acceptance to Danforth.

Rebels from the largely animist and Christian south have fought for greater autonomy from the Islamist government in the Arab-speaking north for over 20 years.

The SPLA and Khartoum are aware that Sudan could face sanctions if it receives bad marks when the U.S. State Department submits a report to Congress on April 20 on whether the parties are negotiating in good faith.

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