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Former Rebels Call for UN Mediation in Sudan


Former rebels in southern Sudan have asked the United Nations to call a special meeting to resolve a dispute with the national government in the North over implementation of a peace agreement. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, the rebels pulled their ministers from a national unity government earlier this month.

Sudan People's Liberation Movement Secretary General Pagan Amum made the appeal Monday for the U.N. Security Council to meet to address a dispute between his group and the National Congress Party in Khartoum.

The peace agreement is facing its most serious challenge, after the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - better known as the SPLM - withdrew their ministers from the national government on October 11, accusing the northern National Congress Party of failing to implement several key provisions.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement established a power-sharing agreement between the SPLM and National Congress Party at the national level and a semi-autonomous government in the south. The deal also includes provisions for resolving outstanding issues, including elections scheduled for 2009 and a referendum on southern secession scheduled for 2011.

Senior SPLM official William Ajal Deng says his group hopes the United Nations will be able to pressure the National Congress Party to fully implement the agreement.

"The meeting is so that we can help in persuading the other partners to implement the agreement where it has not been implemented," he said. "I think it will take some time. The government is right now crippled, because the SPLA/SPLM has pulled out."

U.N. Deputy Special Representative Tayé-Brook Zerihoun says the United Nations cannot mediate without the agreement of both parties. Only the SPLM has asked for U.N. involvement.

"Mediation is only possible when both parties request it, not when one party requests it," Zerihoun said. "The credibility of any agreement depends on the commitment and political will of the parties to implement it. No third party can enforce an agreement. The government has not approached us to assist outside the existing structure."

Zerihoun points out that the withdrawal of the SPLM ministers from the national government has not escalated to more sensitive areas, such as military and security bodies. But he says that the current impasse is worrying nonetheless

"We are concerned that the issue has been dragging for almost two weeks now. That is not good," he said. "And we are concerned that the two parties are not talking to each, they are talking at each other. The more it is left unattended then the likelihood is that the hardliners would be more inclined to push the governments further away from accommodation."

Amum's call for U.N. involvement followed a press conference by Southern Sudan's President Salva Kiir. In the address, Kiir emphasized that he does not want the current crisis to escalate into a return to conflict.

He also reiterated the areas of the peace agreement that the national government must address before the SPLM will return to the government. These include the withdrawal of Northern troops from the South and the National Congress Party's acceptance of a commission's ruling on the boundaries of the disputed Abyei area in central Sudan.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended a civil war that began in 1983. The conflict claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives.