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Sudanese Cease Fire Talks Underway - 2002-01-14


Discussions got under way in Switzerland Monday between representatives of the Sudanese government and rebel forces. The aim of the talks is to secure a limited cease-fire agreement in the country's Nuba Mountains region. Swiss and American officials are helping to mediate the week-long talks between two sides that have been fighting for 18 years.

Swiss officials will not say where the talks are being held or who is representing the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the discussions.

But Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Daniela Stoffel did say that "top-level officials" are involved in the four-way meetings presided over by Swiss and American negotiators. Ms. Stoffel says the talks center on setting up a limited-term - but renewable cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains region.

"These talks on the cease-fire are going to concentrate on, you can call it modalities or technicalities, on the duration of such a cease-fire, on who is going to supervise a cease-fire, and where exactly it is going to apply," she said.

The fighting in Sudan pits the Islamic, Arab-dominated government in the north against predominantly non-Muslim, black Africans in the south. The people in the Nuba Mountains have been aligned with the rebels since 1985. The government has been trying re-capture the region and, with only rare exceptions, refuses to permit food shipments into the area.

Switzerland has maintained strong contacts with the Sudanese government for a long period of time. Ms. Stoffel says the Swiss and American positions on trying to resolve the conflict in Sudan are identical. She says the talks are trying to implement a package of confidence-boosting measures urged by U.S. special envoy to Sudan, former U.S. Senator John Danforth during recent meetings he had with government officials in Khartoum and representatives of the SPLA.

"It is exactly in the framework of what Senator Danforth suggested to the Sudanese parties to the conflict quite recently," she said. "And it is one of the aspects of his suggestions that this cease-fire is now being discussed. The fact that Switzerland also got involved in these specific talks is that Switzerland has a long-standing relationship with Khartoum in peace support and it happens that the two sides of the conflict agreed to meet in Switzerland."

Other confidence-building measures to follow on from the current negotiations include a halt to aerial bombardments by the government, the creation of so-called zones of tranquility to permit aid delivery and measures to stop government militia forces from enslaving civilians.