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Progress Seen In Sudan Peace Efforts - 2003-12-11


There are indications the Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group may reach a framework peace agreement within the next two weeks. Cathy Majtenyi reports from Nairobi.

Sources close to the talks have said they believe the two sides might reach a framework agreement by December 19th, when the current round of talks is scheduled to end. They say the negotiators in the Kenyan town of Naivasha could reach a comprehensive agreement in January.

The Sudan government and the rebels have already reached agreement on security arrangements, but have yet to work out details on how to share the country's wealth and power.

They also have to determine whether the capital city, Khartoum, should be ruled by Islamic or secular law. And they are still discussing whether the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile and Abyei regions fall under the jurisdiction of the north or the south.

Last weekend, rebel leader John Garang and Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha resumed their face-to-face talks aimed at ending 20 years of war, which has claimed an estimated two million lives.

At a news conference in Naivasha Thursday, the rebels' deputy negotiator Pagan Amum said the Sudanese people are tired of war.

"People want peace now. The people want democracy and freedom now."

Mr. Amum said people in the south have not been able to get a fair share of the country's wealth, which is mostly concentrated in the north.

He also says southerners - who mostly follow Christianity or traditional African religions - are frustrated by what they see as religious and cultural domination by the mainly Islamic north.

Mr. Amum was part of a delegation from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement that has just returned from an unprecedented visit to Khartoum, for a week of talks with government officials. He says the trip was a success.

"It was a move of confidence building, and we hope that this mission to Khartoum by the S-P-L-M (rebels) has helped to push forward the peace process."

But even as these optimistic predictions were coming from the peace talks, Mr. Amum warned that if the people of southern Sudan do not like the peace agreement, they could vote to withdraw from the country.

Meanwhile, another rebel group in the Darfur region of western Sudan accused the Sudanese government of killing 25 civilians in an air raid.

Analysts say the on-going conflict in Darfur should be included in the Sudanese peace talks and may threaten the success of the talks if the situation is not dealt with.

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