Home | News    Thursday 2 October 2003

US has high hopes for Sudan peace deal, could lift terror designation

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WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (AFP) — The United States believes a peace deal ending the 20-year civil war between Sudan and southern rebels is imminent and could be finalized by the end of the month, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

If and when the agreement is signed, Washington is prepared to consider removing Sudan from its terrorism blacklist, lifting sanctions and will almost certainly upgrade diplomatic ties with Khartoum, the official said.

However, the official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said such steps would be unlikely unless a final settlement to the conflict was reached.

At the same time, the official said he believed the two sides were "80 percent" of the way toward a peace deal, noting that last week they had signed a critical security agreement regarding troop deployments and integration.

A retired US general, Carl Fulford, will head to Kenya, where the peace talks have been taking place, southern Sudan and Khartoum on Thursday to hash out the final elements of the security arrangements, the official said.

The official said Washington was confident that the two sides would be able to formalize earlier oral understandings on power- and wealth-sharing when they return to the talks in Kenya next week.

A final deal could then be reached by "the end of October or early November, " the official said.

Both sides have said that last week’s security deal would make it easier for other the issues to be resolved.

Earlier Wednesday in Cairo, Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha said his government expects to sign a final peace agreement with the rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), in "several weeks."

On Tuesday, rebel leader John Garang also expressed optimism after thousands of his supporters welcomed the signing of the security pact, saying: "It is time for peace in Sudan."

Sudan’s civil war erupted in 1983 when the SPLA/M took up arms to end domination of the mainly Christian and animist south by the Muslim north. It has since killed more than 1.5 million people and displaced four million others.

The senior State Department official said that once a peace deal was in place, the United States would be ready to begin the process of removing Sudan from its "state sponsors of terrorism" blacklist along with other measures.

A Sudanese newspaper reported on Saturday that Washington had already agreed to lift the designation and the sanctions that come with it and that all that remained was the timing of the move.

Despite major improvements in Sudan’s anti-terrorism cooperation with the United States, the official discounted the absolute nature of the report, saying much depending on a peace agreement.

"Without that changed landscape ... I think it’s a real hard slog for sanctions to be lifted," the official said.

Should a deal be reached, the official also said Washington would likely appoint an ambassador to fill that position in Khartoum, a post that has been vacant since the mid-1990s.

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