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Negotiators discuss contested areas

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NAIVASHA, Oct. 13, 2003 (IRIN) — Deep-rooted differences on the future status of Southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba mountains are emerging at peace talks taking place in Naivasha, Kenya.

Representatives from the government of Sudan and the three areas exchanged position papers on the three areas last week, Malik Agar Eyre, SPLM commander and Governor of Southern Blue Nile region told IRIN.

He said the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was expecting an "elaborated" response from the government delegation, which would address the detailed rebel demands.

"It would be unfair to say progress has been made, and it would be unfair to say that no progress has been made," said Eyre. Both sides were "leveling the ground" by stating their positions and trying to reach a consensus on minor issues before the arrival of the Sudanese Vice-President, Ali Osman Taha and the Chairman of the SPLM/A, John Garang, on 16 October.

For Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains, the SPLM/A was demanding the right to self-determination, he said. This meant holding internationally monitored referenda in each region before the end of the six year interim period - following the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement - to decide whether they would belong to northern or southern Sudan.

During the interim period, the SPLM/A was demanding that the two areas be "anchored" under rebel control, but awarded a "special status" and a great deal of autonomy in a decentralised government. Both areas should be allowed their own state constitution, judiciary, legislative and executive powers, security organs, police, and civil service, he said.

A land commission should be set up to resolve land disputes, order restitution of grabbed land and award compensation, he added. "Special resources" should also be allocated to both regions to provide reconstruction and rehabilitation in war-affected areas, and to ensure that services in the areas were "on the same footing" with all other regions.

Abyei, currently part of western Kordofan, should be restored to the southern state of Bahr el Ghazal by a presidential order, he said. If this were not possible then a referendum should also be held to decide whether it belonged to the north or the south.

Under the colonial borders drawn up in 1956, all three areas found themselves under the control of northern-dominated administrations. Regularly attacked by northern militias, denied humanitarian aid, and treated effectively as "second-class citizens" by the ruling classes they have experienced systematic marginalisation and discrimination, according to political analysts.

The SPLM/A currently controls Kurmuk and Yabus counties in Southern Blue Nile, with a population of about 500,000, and a further 700,000-800,000 in the Nuba mountains, according to Eyre. In Abyei county, the movement has control over about 32,000 people.

He said that after a week of discussions, the government response to the SPLM/A demands had failed to recognise the political dimension to the conflict, by insisting on keeping the areas as part of northern Sudan. The government delegation had talked about "accommodating" the SPLM/A by keeping the three areas as part of the north, while injecting money into them to combat "underdevelopment and neglect", he said.

But the SPLM/A was prepared to stay as long as it was "achieving something", he told IRIN. Inevitably, compromises would have to be made on both sides. "We are expecting to get whatever we can live with, not necessarily whatever we want," he noted.

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