Home | News    Monday 10 November 2003

Sudanese president says peace talks could resume early

CAIRO, Egypt, Nov. 10, 2003 (AP) — Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir said Sunday that peace talks to end the long civil war in his country could resume early despite lingering mistrust between the northern and southern negotiators.

El-Bashir, interviewed on pan-Arab television network Al-Arabiya, said negotiations in Kenya to solve the key remaining issues — wealth and power sharing and administering three disputed areas in central Sudan — could start earlier than the scheduled date of Dec. 1.

"People want them to resume before that," he said. "We are ready to restart."

The last bout of war erupted in 1983 when southern rebels from the mainly animist and Christian south took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim north. Twenty years later it has claimed more than 2 million lives, mainly because of war-induced famine.

After more than a year of talks, a breakthrough was achieved in September when the government agreed to allow the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army to retain its force in the south, the main area of conflict, for a six-year transitional period.

After meeting Sudanese government and rebel officials in late October, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the warring parties had agreed to remain in negotiations and "conclude a comprehensive settlement no later than the end of December."

Powell gave the government an incentive when he said the United States would consider normalizing relations with Sudan if a comprehensive deal is concluded. America closed its embassy in Khartoum in 1996 and has imposed numerous sanctions on Sudan since 1989.

The Sudanese President said the remaining issues were not impossible to resolve, adding he would not mind signing a peace deal in Washington.

"I don’t think that the remaining issues can lead to carrying arms again," he said. "They are principal issues but they are not impossible to solve" despite the "rigidness" of the rebel negotiators and the "lack of trust" between the two parties.

El-Bashir said his government would not accept a separate independent central bank for the south, nor an independent currency. Many southerners do not want to abide by the Islamic rule governing banking practices in the north.

El-Bashir said he would consider a regional branch of the current Central Bank to regulate non-Islamic transactions only in the south.

"Managing the transitional period in a way that will build trust between the northern and southern citizen is the most important basic that will lead the southerners to vote for unity," el-Bashir said, adding that he would respect a vote for separation if it comes.

A referendum is to be held in the south after the transition period.

Acknowledging the lack of development and poverty of the south, which he said were the result of war and not the driving force behind it, el-Bashir said the south would get most of the resources the largest African nation would receive in case a peace agreement is signed.

The Sudanese president said removing Sudan from Washington’s list of states sponsoring terrorism and abolishing sanctions would allow much needed investment to come to the country, rich in oil and other natural resources.

He denied Powell has asked the Sudanese government to close down offices of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, saying "We only heard that from the media."

He also denied the Palestinian militant group Jihad has any offices in Sudan. "Our relation with Hamas is a political one. ... This is a group with a cause, and we did not get a request to close their offices."

Concerning the joint armed forces, el-Bashir said he would accept foreign observers but that a peacekeeping force is not necessary now that the warring parties have signed cease-fire agreements and are working toward a peace deal.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials criticized the government for not allowing a U.S. aid team to go to Nyala, in Darfur province, 1,120 kilometers (800 miles) southwest of Khartoum, where fighting has taken the lives of 7,000 people and displaced 600,000 in the last eight months, according to U.S. figures.

"While in appreciation of the government of Sudan’s responsibility to ensure security of diplomats in Sudan, the embassy believes that the present climate, including a cease-fire agreement, should permit free travel throughout Sudan and encourages the government of Sudan to remove barriers to free movement," the U.S. statement said.