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Sudan Government, SPLA Rebels Agree to Extend Cease-Fire - 2002-11-18

Sudan's warring parties Monday agreed to extend a cease-fire until the end of March. However, important issues remain to be worked out, including aspects of power sharing.

After five weeks of peace talks in neighboring Kenya, the Sudanese government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) signed a memorandum extending their current cease-fire until March 31, when peace talks are scheduled to end. The cease-fire was originally due to expire at the end of next month.

But there is disappointment that the two sides failed to reach a comprehensive agreement on sharing power, although they did agree on some aspects of that.

The SPLA took up arms against the Sudanese government in 1983 to fight for greater autonomy for the south. Some two million people have since died, mainly through war-related famine.

The talks saw a major breakthrough in July, when Sudan's government agreed to exempt southern Sudan from Islamic Sharia law. It also agreed to a referendum on independence after a six-year interim period.

Although progress has slowed, mediators say there has been movement. The two parties signed a document covering a few points on power-sharing, including holding general elections and a census during a transitional period, and giving southern Sudanese fair representation in the civil service and legislative chambers.

Mediators also draw hope from the Sudanese government and rebels' willingness to continue with negotiations, which reopen in January.

The two sides were unable to agree as to who would hold the posts of president and vice-president. The division of ministries also proved tricky. The SPLA says it wants 40 percent of all ministerial posts in the interim government, but the government said this was too much.

The warring parties also failed to agree on how to share Sudan's new found oil wealth.