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Sudan Foreign Minister Upbeat on Peace Agreement

Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol says the implementation of the North-South peace agreement signed in January 2005 is on track. The next step, he says, is to get the partners of the new government of national unity to discuss their strategy to resolve rebel fighting in Darfur and in the east.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol, appointed less than a month ago when the new government of national unity took office in September, is in Rome this week to join the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Mr. Akol, a high-ranking official of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, spoke positively about the North-South peace agreement signed last January that ended two decades of civil war. He said implementation is going well, despite the setback suffered by the death in July of SPLA leader John Garang.

"Now we are moving confidently, together with all the partners in government in order to see that the peace agreement is implemented in full, transparently and honestly, " he said.

Mr. Akol says now that peace has been attained in the south, it is time to resolve the other trouble spots. He says the peace agreement in the south can provide a model for solving problems in Darfur in western Sudan and in the east of the country bordering with Eritrea.

But he says there will be no peace agreement in Darfur if a shaky truce that was signed in April does not hold.

"The situation in Darfur is complicated by the fact that the rebels themselves are divided, that they do not have a common position," continued Mr. Akol. "Secondly, that they do not respect the ceasefire agreement that was signed in N'Djamena. "

Non-Arab rebels took up arms in February 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglect and of monopolizing wealth and power. Mr. Akol acknowledges that the security situation needs to be improved. He says the African Union is doing its best to ensure that the population is protected.

"They say when two elephants fight it is the grass who suffers," he continued. "So the population is a concern of all of us. They must be able to receive the assistance they need especially under this difficult situation. But definitely when hostilities break out, people are affected most. "

Mr. Akol and officials in Sudan's government of national unity will be discussing a strategy on how to approach the talks with the rebels. He says they will talk about how to reconstitute a negotiating team to include parties that were not present when the talks started.

The Sudanese foreign minister says an agreement needs to address the grievances of the people, just as it did for the people of southern Sudan. They have concerns about participation, about sharing in national wealth and about respect for their culture and these, Mr. Akol, says, will need to be addressed.