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Sudan Government, Rebels Pledge to Fight for Disputed Town - 2002-09-09


In Sudan, leaders of government forces say they are preparing to fight to regain control of an important town from rebels in southeastern Sudan. VOA's Greg LaMotte spoke with representatives of both sides in Egypt about the effect new fighting may have on peace talks.

Both sides in Sudan are promising to fight for the garrison town of Torit. Rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army seized control of the town last Monday, causing the Khartoum government to walk out of peace talks in Kenya.

Sudan's defense minister says the SPLA will be taught a lesson in Torit that "it will not forget." The SPLA says it "will be waiting for them."

Sudan's ambassador to Egypt, Ahmed Abdel Alim, told VOA he believes a battle for Torit "will not permanently derail the peace negotiations." He says if the SPLA can give assurances no new demands will be made, the government will return to the negotiating table.

"I know that the government is serious on going back to the negotiating table, provided that questions and observations that it has offered to the secretariat are responded to in a manner that will convince the government that the SPLA will not try to obstruct the forces," said Amb. Alim. "And the secretariat should always been keen not to allow either side to derail the negotiations."

But the representative for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Egypt, Gur Kuch, says he believes government leaders in Khartoum will use the fight for Torit as an excuse to break off peace negotiations they never really supported.

"They actually wanted to pull out from the peace talks and they could not get any reasons except talking about Torit," said Mr. Kuch. "In a sense they have been looking for all the reasons they can pull out of the peace talks. This is what I can conclude."

Mr. Kuch says SPLA forces were camped about 10 kilometers from Torit with no intention of taking over the town until government forces attacked. Mr. Kuch says the SPLA was acting in self-defense. He says "regardless of who controls Torit, the peace talks should continue."

The head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Abdel Moneim Sa'id, says Torit is crucial to the government and he doubts the government will return to negotiations if it does not regain the town. "Unless the government comes back to Torit," he said, "I do not think they will come back to the negotiating table because they will be seriously at a disadvantage. That will hurt their [negotiating] position. So that means there will be a delay until both sides really realize that there is only negotiations that can solve their problem."

Sudan's civil war is one of the longest in Africa. It has gone on for 19 years and cost an estimated two million lives.

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