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Sudan Rebel Group Leader, Vice President Continue Talks - 2003-09-05


The leader of Sudan's main rebel group and the country's first vice president met Friday in face to face talks aimed at saving the Sudanese peace talks.

For the second day running, Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army chairman John Garang and Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Taha have been talking about how to resolve key issues that threaten to derail peace talks that have been going on in Kenya for the past year.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka told reporters the meeting between the two is "very cordial." Mr. Musyoka said he has high hopes for the meeting.

The Kenyan mediator of the Sudanese peace talks, retired General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, also expressed optimism about discussions between Mr. Garang and Mr. Taha.

"I think there is a willingness on both parties to move forward in this process," he said. "These two people are meeting for the first time. So they were sizing [up] each other because they do not know the temperament of the other. After two meetings yesterday they seemed to have relaxed. This morning, it was more or less smooth going on in the negotiations."

The rebels and the Sudanese government can not agree on several key issues. The Sudanese government says the country's capital, Khartoum, should be ruled by Islamic law, while the rebels of the SPLA say the capital should be secular to accommodate the largely Christian south.

The rebels call for two separate armies - one in the north and one in the south - during a six-year interim period spelled out in an earlier agreement, while the government says the country should have only one army.

The SPLA and government also have to find a way to share power in government and the civil service and how to distribute the country's wealth, which largely comes from the south's rich oil fields.

Mr. Sumbeiywo said both parties are under intense pressure from the international community, the region and the people of Sudan to reach a peace deal.

The meeting between Mr. Garang and Mr. Taha is taking place several days before the larger peace talks are set to resume. Negotiators will be meeting next Wednesday to pick up where the two left off.

Mr. Sumbeiywo says, while he believes the talks should go on, "as long as it takes", he thinks the two sides could reach a peace deal by the end of September.

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