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Sudan's Government, Rebels Argue as Peace Accord Breaks Down - 2002-09-03

The government of Sudan and southern rebels are blaming each other for the collapse of peace talks Monday.

The government accuses rebels of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army of backtracking on commitments made in the ground-breaking Machakos Protocol signed in July.

In that document, the two sides agreed that southern Sudan would be exempted from Islamic Sharia law and allowed to vote for independence after a six year interim period.

The government said Tuesday that the rebels' demands that the second round of talks, which started three weeks ago, have been unreasonable. Specifically, the government says the rebels have asked for too much power, including a Sharia-free capital during the interim period and altering the borders of southern Sudan.

The SPLA counters that these were just proposals for negotiation.

Elijak Malok, SPLA secretary at Machakos, says the government was looking for a pretext to walk out of the talks because it felt it had given too much away in the July Protocol.

"They came with a hidden agenda, and the hidden agenda is very clear," he said. "They were looking for a leeway to get away from Machakos One, because they felt that they had made a mistake by accepting, one: the right for the south to have the right of self-determination and other marginalized areas, and also the question of the separation of state from religion. The same team had come back with the resolve to see to it that that Machakos One protocol cannot proceed."

The SPLA charges that the governments real reason for terminating the talks is that Sudanese President Omar el Bashir is under pressure from military hardliners not to make further concessions. The rebels say the Sudanese army is on the offensive and is pursuing goals completely different from the government's negotiators.

The government says it is the SPLA's fault the talks collapsed. The government says the rebels have continued their military operations unabated, and have spoiled the atmosphere of the talks. It calls the rebels' capture of the town of Torit on Sunday the final straw.

Both the government and the rebels have appealed to the international community to pressure the other side to resume negotiations in good faith.