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Sudan Denies Reports of Breakdown in Peace Talks with Rebels

Sudan's government is denying reports that peace talks with the main rebel group have broken down. The two sides are deadlocked on key issues, but are still negotiating.

Negotiators at the Sudan peace talks say the two sides are widely apart on key points of a draft agreement, but are still talking.

Sudan's deputy ambassador in Narobi, Dirdeiry Ahmed, tells VOA no one has walked away from the table. "What I can say is that the negotiations are still on and we are still here at Mount Kenya and they are still negotiating and they are still engaged," he said.

The draft agreement is designed to implement the so called Machakos Protocol under which the Sudanese government and the rebels from the south of the country agreed that southern Sudan would not be ruled by Islamic law and that southerners could, after a six-year interim period, vote whether to secede from Sudan.

The Sudan government rejected the draft agreement because it calls for the country's capital, Khartoum, to be a secular capital and for the country to have two separate armies for the south and the north.

The rebels insist no changes should be made to the draft.

An analyst for the non-governmental International Crisis Group, David Mozersky, calls the impasse a "procedural barrier that has really become a major stumbling block." He says negotiators should focus on specific issues first.

"They just have to come up with the right formula that allows both parties to feel comfortable actually discussing because once they start to discuss the issues there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel and the possibility of reaching an agreement is very strong," he said.

Mr. Mozersky says the international community should put pressure on the two sides to break the deadlock.

But regional political analyst Moustafa Hassouna disagrees, and, in fact, blames pressure from the outside for the problems in the negotiations.

"There is the whole notion that the [government of Sudan] is being pressured by the United States and by other parties, international actors, to sign or to get into an agreement that they cannot uphold. So in terms of people negotiating of their own free will, that is no longer happening," he said.

The analyst says the parties should be allowed to carry on their negotiations without outside interference.