Home | News    Monday 10 January 2005

Sudan ex-rebels prepare to set up provisional capital

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NAIROBI, Jan 10 (AFP) — Leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) prepared Monday to create a provisional capital in the southern Sudanese town of Rumbek, a day after signing a landmark peace deal with Khartoum that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

A young boy wanders amidst ruins in Rumbek’s central market. Rumbek is due to become the temporary ’capital’ of southern Sudan under a peace deal to be signed this weekend by the government and the main rebel movement. (file/AFP) .

Leaders of the former rebel movement met here to discuss details of governance and the installation of their new capital in Rumbek, 900 kilometres (560 miles) south of Khartoum, spokesman Yasser Arman told AFP in Nairobi.

Deng Aloor, a senior SPLM/A official said an advance team had already been dispatched to Rumbek to prepare a welcoming ceremony for the group’s leader John Garang, who is expected there in the coming days.

Some officials "have gone to Rumbek to prepare the town, which will also be our temporary capital. Others, including Garang, have remained behind for a series of meetings," Aloor said.

On Sunday, Garang and Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha signed a landmark peace accord in Kenya, ending 21 devastating years of war that claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced another four million people.

The cornerstone of the accord is a protocol exempting southern Sudan from Sharia law and granting it six years of self-rule, after which it will vote in a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan or secede.

Oil revenue from wells in the south, where most of Sudan’s oil is located, is to be split on a 50-50 basis between the southern and national governments.

It was not immediately clear when Garang, who has a home in Nairobi, would travel to Rumbek, although he was expected to do so shortly before the SPLM/A parliament, the National Liberation Council, ratifies the peace agreement.

The council has until January 22 to approve the deal.

Under the terms of the accord, Garang will be sworn in as Sudan’s vice president immediately after the Sudanese parliament ratifies the agreement. The legislature in Khartoum has until February 20 to adopt the pact.

SPLM/A will then operate from Rumbek until Khartoum withdraws from the larger southern town of Juba, which will become the capital of the south for a six-year period of autonomy followed by a referendum on secession.

A former government garrison town of several thousand inhabitants that was captured by the southern rebels in 1997, Rumbek already hosts the headquarters of several humanitarian groups and United Nations agencies.

SPLM/A officials said they were hard at work planning projects to improve the town’s infrastructure, largely in ruins after two decades of war.

Much of town is in a bombed-out state, with unpaved roads and a lack of running water or electricity. The only cars in circulation are the all-terrain vehicles owned by non-governmental organizations or the SPLM/A.

Juba, by contrast, is southern Sudan’s largest city and the only one with a paved road network.

Sunday’s treaty was the culmination of lengthy negotiations that kicked off in earnest in Kenya in early 2002, after numerous false starts since Khartoum and SPLM/A adopted the initial peace talks agenda in 1994.

The signing ushered in a six-month pre-interim period during which both sides will prepare for the coming transitional period.

However, while peace appears to be returning to the south, fighting continues in Sudan’s western Darfur province, where a separate conflict has claimed at least 70,000 lives and displaced 1.6 million people since February 2003, according to UN figures.

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