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Mediator Draws up Final Sudan Peace Plan - 2003-05-22

The mediator in talks aimed at ending two decades of civil war in Sudan says he is drawing up a final peace agreement to present to the two sides next week.

Kenyan mediator General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, says he is going to travel to Sudan next week to present the warring parties with his peace plan.

"I am developing a final agreement, I am working on it," said General Sumbeiywo. "It is a new method, it is a new modality, that I am introducing after discussing with the parties and we have agreed that that is the way to go. I am going to consult with their principals. I will be in north and south sometime next week. I have listened to them. I have heard their positions. I am going to merge their positions and I am going to take it to them."

General Sumbeiywo's new idea is an effort to bring fresh impetus to the process.

The fifth session of talks between the government and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army [SPLA] ended Wednesday, with the two sides failing to agree on several major issues.

General Sumbeiywo says his hopes of reaching a final agreement by June have been dashed and that is why he is trying a different approach.

One of the trickiest questions is what to do with the armies of the government and the rebels, once a peace agreement is signed.

Last July, the Sudanese government and the SPLA agreed to a six-year interim period, during which the south would be exempted from Islamic Sharia law, which is an exemption it has been fighting for since 1983. During this time, northern and southern Sudan will see if they can live peacefully together. Northern Sudan is mainly Muslim, while the south is mainly Christian or animist.

When the six-years end, there is to be a referendum giving southern Sudan the choice between remaining part of a united Sudan or forming its own country.

The government argues that the two armies should be integrated during this transition period.

"One of the main pillars for unity, especially here in Africa, is to have one country, one army, and one command," explained Mohammed Dirdeiry of the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi. "If the SPLA is very clear about this fact, that there should [be] one country and unity during the interim period, we feel that they should appreciate the need for having one army in the country. Two armies are a recipe for conflict, this is very clear. We can try to address their concerns if they are seeking any guarantees, but definitely to try to maintain two armies at a time is not something that we can tolerate."

But the SPLA is unwilling to merge the two armies until after the referendum. Rebel spokesman in Nairobi, George Garang, says it is impossible for the SPLA to join what he sees as an Islamic army, filled with men loyal to the ruling National Islamic Front.

"That is the army of the National Islamic Front," said Mr. Garang. "It is no longer a national army of the Sudan. They purged it since they came to power. Most of the army corps now is composed of the mujahadeen, holy warriors, so why [should] we integrate into an army of a party?"

Despite their differing stances, Mr. Dirdeiry of the Sudanese Embassy is optimistic that a solution can be found, partly because of the mediator's sophisticated negotiating techniques.

"This new approach of trying to see everything together at a time, the collective, holistic approach, is assisting us very much to address this issue in particular," he commented. "We are not talking only about security arrangements or only the command of the military. We are linking that also to other issues like the matter of the presidency, who will be the commander in chief of the army?"

The two sides also need to come to an agreement on the sharing of Sudan's lucrative oil reserves, which have become the focus of the war during the past few years.

The SPLA says it is entitled to 60 percent of the oil wealth, while the government is willing to offer only 10 percent.

Observers are optimistic that a solution can be found to such issues in the final stages, once the question of the armies is resolved.

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