Home | News    Thursday 27 May 2004

Sudan foes set June talks to flesh out peace deal

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By Wangui Kanina

NAIVASHA, Kenya, May 27 (Reuters) - Sudan’s government and southern rebels agreed on Thursday to fresh talks in June to flesh out a peace deal ending Africa’s longest running civil war, rebels and mediators said.

The government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) signed agreements on Wednesday in Kenya on how to share power and manage disputed strategic areas, lifting the last hurdles to a full peace deal and cease-fire in Africa’s biggest state.

"We agreed today that we’ll be coming back on June 22," said SPLA spokesman Yasir Arman. Mediators confirmed the date.

The accord includes opponents in a 21-year-old war but leaves out a separate conflict raging in the western Darfur area and excludes up to 30 other militia groups, some eyeing Sudan’s newly tapped oil wealth, who could still scupper peace hopes.

Wednesday’s accords give the Khartoum government 70 percent of executive and legislative seats in the north and the SPLA the same in the south during a six-year transition, an SPLA delegate said. After that the south would vote on secession.

In the disputed Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile regions, which control much of the oil wealth, the government would have 55 percent of power and the SPLA 45 percent, with the governorship switching between the two every 18 months.

Governments, aid agencies and the African Union hailed the deal, but nearly a day after the ceremony the text had still not been published and copies were restricted to a few delegates.

CONCESSIONS

Both sides made concessions and must now persuade those at home, polarized by the war, that it is time for peace.

"You both will need to sell your agreement to the Sudanese people and mobilize your support," Norway’s development minister Hilde Frafjord Johnson told the government’s negotiator Ali Osman Mohamed Taha and SPLA leader John Garang.

First Vice President Taha took a direct role in September, invigorating decade-old efforts to end a war pitting northern Arab Muslims against southern black animists and Christians.

Veteran leader Garang acknowledged the tasks ahead.

"Nine months is what God has prescribed as a full term. We hope we have delivered to you a healthy baby — but then of course a child needs to be nurtured," he said.

Kenyan mediators said a final peace deal could be concluded within two months, which Johnson said seemed realistic.

"We commend both sides for their commitment to peace and urge them to move quickly to work out details of a formal cease-fire and related security arrangements, as well as the means for implementing the agreements signed today," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a statement.

South Africa said it was ready to lead post-war reconstruction in Sudan.

Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told Reuters South Africa would consult the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other donors on efforts to rebuild Sudan’s infrastructure.

OTHER CONFLICTS RAGE ON

But optimism has been tempered by Sudan’s other conflicts such as in Darfur, where more than a year of fighting between black African rebels and horse-mounted Arab militias has forced an estimated one million people from their homes in what the United Nations says is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

"Sudan will not be at peace until the problem of Darfur is resolved," Powell cautioned.

Previous protocols covered forming a post-war national army and an equal division of oil revenues during the transition.

"There is still room for plenty of disagreement on implementation," said John Ashworth, analyst with Sudan Focal Point, an advocacy office for Christian churches in Sudan.

"The government is facing the reality that in six and a half years the southerners are going to vote for independence...and they won’t want to cede the oil areas."

The Arab League, which includes Sudan, welcomed the deal but expressed concern it could lead to the secession of the south.

"Some people are worried about the partition of Sudan and will continue to be worried. The coming days will show how real these fears are," said Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki.

Oil has fueled religious and ethnic enmities with the SPLA laying claim to fields producing much of the 300,000 barrels a day that earns Sudan over $3 billion a year at current prices.

Sudan’s civil war has killed an estimated two million people mainly through famine and disease since 1983 when Khartoum tried to impose Islamic sharia law on the mainly animist south.

(Additional reporting by Katie Nguyen and Alistair Thomson)

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