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UN Envoy Optimistic About Sudan Peace

U.N. envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk says he remains optimistic that the Sudanese government and southern-based SPLA rebels will keep their promise to sign a comprehensive peace deal by the end of the year

In an interview with a Dutch newspaper, Jan Pronk says he believes there is at least a 60 percent chance that a final peace accord for southern Sudan could be signed by December 31. The U.N. envoy cited, what he termed, a good atmosphere at the talks in Kenya.

More than two years of negotiations have resulted in agreements on several key issues, such as wealth and power sharing. Mr. Pronk says he is extremely hopeful the two sides can overcome the last remaining obstacle on how to create a new national army that includes rebel troops from the south.

Last month, the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army pledged they would have a comprehensive deal by the end of the year. They made the promise during a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council in Nairobi, which pressured the warring parties to move forward with the talks.

The latest round of high-level negotiations between Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and rebel leader John Garang began last week. Sudanese officials at the talks could not be reached for comment, but the spokesman for the SPLA, Samson Kwaje, says his group is committed to meeting the December 31 deadline.

"The talks are going on well," he said. "There are difficulties, but I think that we still have enough time to overcome them. Most of the committee works have been finished, and by today they ought to be submitted to Vice President Ali and Dr. Garang."

This is not the first time the two sides have issued a self-imposed deadline for reaching a final agreement. Last December, Khartoum and the SPLA missed another end-of-the-year deadline for a deal they had pledged themselves to in a previous meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Since then, Washington has applied constant pressure on the warring parties, withdrawing its observer from the Naivasha talks and threatening to impose sanctions if good-faith efforts are not made to reach a final settlement.

Ending Africa's longest-running civil war is seen as a critical step toward resolving a bloody, nearly two year-old rebellion in the western Darfur region of Sudan.

The two wars largely pit black Africans in southern and western Sudan against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. Rebels in both regions say they are fighting for, among other things, racial and political equality and a greater share in the country's oil wealth.

The war in the south has killed two million people, mostly through hunger and disease. The United Nations estimates the war in Darfur has killed 70,000 civilians.

U.N. envoy Pronk says if a peace deal for the south can be reached, it may convince the rebels in Darfur that it is possible for them to lay down arms and negotiate with the government as well.