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Sudanese Factions Accept Peace Conference Initiative - 2001-07-05

All sides in Sudan's 18-year civil war have accepted an Egyptian-Libyan initiative for a peace conference and political reconciliation. The main rebel group has submitted some suggestions on how they think the plan could be improved.

The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army says it welcomes the new peace initiative. But it has sent the proposal back to Egypt and Libya asking them to include three points.

The rebels want the memorandum to guarantee the right of self-determination for the south, the constitutional separation of state powers, and freedom of religion.

The rebels also want Egypt and Libya's peace proposal to be integrated with the long-running East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development initiative.

The Egyptian-Libyan initiative calls for a transitional government representing all political parties. That interim government would then organize a national constitutional conference.

Samson Kwaje of the Sudan People's Liberation Army said a transitional government must be prepared to give real power to people in the south.

Mr. Kwaje said Sudan's President Omar el Bashir could step down in favor of a member of the opposition. "Khartoum thinks that they can co-opt members of the opposition just by giving them ministries," he said. "There must be real restructuring of power at the center, not a matter of co-opting people to get ministerial positions. We do not want that to happen. We are demanding for us something more fundamental. It may even mean that the transitional president should not be Bashir. Maybe somebody from the opposition, say Mohamed Osman Mirghani who is the chairman of the National Democratic Alliance."

Mr. Kwaje said Egypt and Libya must pressure Khartoum to accept the rebel's three suggestions for the new peace plan. "...pressure must be put on Khartoum that it is important to address the issues that are the main causes of the war," he said. "If Sudan is serious and if these two members really put pressure on the government in Khartoum there can be some movement towards peace in the country."

The disagreement over the separation of religion and state has brought the previous peace initiative to a standstill. Islamic law has prevailed in Sudan since President Bashir seized power in 1989.

Most southern Sudanese follow traditional African religions or Christianity. At least two-million people have died in fighting and famines during Sudan's civil war.