Home | News    Saturday 19 July 2003

Sudan peace talks at make-or-break phase: US envoy

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NAIROBI, July 18 (AFP) — US envoy to Sudan John Danforth on Friday urged all sides involved in the country’s civil war to wrap up peace talks in the coming weeks and end two decades of devastating civil war which has claimed more than 1.5 million lives.

"The remaining issues, while they are certainly significant issues, are not as difficult and not as contentious as the two that have already been resolved," former senator Danforth, who is US President George W. Bush’s envoy to Sudan, told a news conference in Nairobi.

"I think we will know in the next few weeks if there is any hope in this," he added, warning international support for the peace talks would quickly wane if the two sides failed to show good faith at this crucial time.

The conflict, which has pitted Khartoum’s Islamic government against a mainly animist and Christian south since 1983 and which has been fanned by the presence of rich oil reserves in the south, has left four million displaced across Africa’s largest country.

Khartoum pulled out of peace talks with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Kenya on Sunday after rejecting US-backed east African peace proposals accepted by the southern rebels.

The talks in the western Kenyan town of Nakuru are due to resume on July 23.

One of the bones of contention has been the government’s refusal to suspend Islamic law in the Khartoum during the transition period when mediators had proposed that the city serve as the joint capital.

The government also rejected a proposal to carve out an area of Khartoum and designate it the joint capital, the SPLA said.

But Danforth recalled that a year ago the two sides had sealed an accord on some of the most difficult points including the separation of church and state and the future status of southern Sudan.

Danforth said the remaining issues, which he listed as "wealth-sharing, power-sharing, security (and) the status of the capital" were "in my opinion, very solvable."

"My belief is the parties are very close to resolving (them) and that it is possible (to do so) in a short period of time ... provided that each of the two sides truly wants peace," he said at the end of a tour of the region, which also took him to Khartoum and Cairo.

"By short period of time, I mean weeks, not months. The issues are well-known, there is nothing new to be discussed.

"The time has come not for more speeches, not for more posturing but for closing these remaining issues," he said.

"It is really up the two sides ... to make the decision as to whether they truly want peace ... This has dragged on long enough. Enough people have been killed, enough people have been wounded, enough people’s lives have been disrupted by this terrible war and the time has come to conclude it," he said.

But asked he felt the two sides did indeed want peace, Danforth said: "I honestly don’t know."

Last weekend, the Khartoum government rejected the draft accord as "unbalanced and inconsistent" with previous agreements.

And on Monday Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir defended Islamic law and told Kenyan-based mediators they could "go to hell" if they insisted on pushing the draft peace settlement rejected by his negotiators.

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