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Sudan Gov't, Rebels Reach Wealth-Sharing Agreement - 2004-01-06

Delegates and negotiators at the Sudan peace talks say the Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group have worked out details of how they will share wealth from the country's natural resources. Negotiators say the two sides plan to sign an agreement on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army, Yasser Arman, said history has been made in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, where the Sudanese peace talks are taking place.

"For the first time in the history of Sudan, the [oil] producing regions represented by the south will be given some of the wealth so that they [the southern government] can manage their affairs and meet their responsibilities for the south," said Mr. Arman.

This is good news for the rebels, who have been saying for years that the government has taken a disproportionate percentage of revenues from the oil-rich fields of the south.

The government and rebels have agreed to share the country's oil revenues equally between north and south. They will also split equally other revenues, such as taxes.

The two sides have formed a National Petroleum Commission to be run jointly by the Sudanese government and the rebel group. Mr. Arman says four experts from each side would be represented on the commission, whose job it would be to supervise oil operations and contracts.

Sudan produced more than 200,000 barrels of oil a day on average last year and is now producing up to 300,000 barrels a day. Oil revenues account for about 70 percent of Sudan's total export earnings, according to U.S. government statistics.

In addition to the sharing of revenues, the two sides have also worked out details of the country's banking system. Mr. Arman says Sudan is to have a single central bank with two branches.

The southern government will run its own branch according to what he calls international financial standards, while the Khartoum government will administer the northern branch, in his words, along Islamic financial norms.

For a limited time, Sudan will also have two currencies, the dinar in the north and the New Sudan Pound in the south.

The Kenyan mediator of the talks, retired General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, says the next big step in the peace talks will be to agree on who will govern three disputed areas in central Sudan: the Nuba Mountains; Southern Blue Nile; and Abyei.

"The parties are preparing to start on it [the three areas]," said General Sumbeiywo. "They have actually said they have been discussing it alongside wealth sharing, so they will go on it now."

Government officials claim the areas fall under Khartoum's jurisdiction, according to terms established at the time of independence. But the rebels say people living in those three areas have experienced the same repression and marginalization as southern Sudanese, and should therefore be included in the south.

How the two sides will share power is the last issue before a final peace deal can be signed. The 20-year-old war has claimed an estimated two million lives.