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Former Sudanese Rebel Leader in Eritrea for Talks


The former leader of a rebel group based in southern Sudan has held talks in neighboring Eritrea with top officials there, including President Isaias Afwerki. Although Khartoum accuses Eritrea of supporting a rebel movement in eastern Sudan, the Sudanese government may have something to gain from the talks taking place in Asmara, the Eritrean capital.

Eritrea's state-run news agency ERINA reports that the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, John Garang, told the Eritrean president that he "sympathizes" with the situation of rebels in the east and in the western Darfur region of Sudan.

For the past few days, a rebel movement in eastern Sudan, called the Eastern Front, has attacked government garrisons near Port Sudan on the Red Sea, capturing Sudanese soldiers and seizing government equipment.

Mr. Garang's group will soon become part of the Sudanese government, under a recently signed north-south peace deal in which the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Khartoum will share power and wealth.

Rebels in the east and in Darfur have been calling for the same power and wealth-sharing arrangement with Khartoum, saying that they feel economically and politically neglected.

An analyst with the South African-based Institute for Security Studies, Richard Cornwell, says Mr. Garang's comments about sympathizing with the rebels should be seen as encouraging the rebels that they, too, can negotiate a similar power and wealth-sharing deal with Khartoum.

"He's saying that we [the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement] were also marginalized people that Khartoum left out of the equation," he said. "We have managed to strike a deal with these people [Khartoum], and we think that we can get you in on that deal, though not at our own expense of course."

Khartoum has accused the Eastern Front rebel movement of preparing "a subversive plot targeting the country's eastern front."

Khartoum has also maintained that Eritrea is supporting the eastern rebels in a bid to topple the Sudanese government, while Eritrea accuses Sudan of mistreating Eritreans living in Sudan.

Analyst Cornwell says that Mr. Garang's presence in Eritrea is not necessarily against the wishes of the Sudan government, even though it has cool relations with Eritrea. The analyst says the visit could be worthwhile to Sudan.

"Garang has done this with Khartoum's encouragement. He is in Asmara talking with the high command of the Eastern Front and trying to dissuade them from continuing their war," said Mr. Cornwell.

This would not be the first time that Mr. Garang has met with eastern rebel groups. Before the north-south agreement was signed, his group and the others had pledged to join forces against the government.

Eritrea's state-run news agency, ERINA, quoted Mr. Garang as saying that he would work toward ensuring "a comprehensive peace in the Sudan," and that a "special seat has been reserved" at the negotiating table for rebels fighting in Darfur and the area near Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

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