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Swiss Officials Optimistic about Talks Aimed at Ending Africa's Longest Civil War - 2002-01-16


Swiss officials say they are optimistic about talks taking place in Switzerland between the warring parties in Sudan's civil war.

Negotiations for a cease-fire in one of Africa's longest running civil wars began on Monday and could last a week.

Swiss Foreign Ministry official Pietro Piffaretti told VOA that representatives of the Sudanese government and the rebels are now discussing ways to implement a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan.

"There is the issue of establishing a joint military commission, its composition, where the monitors are going survey. These kinds of questions," he said.

War has raged in Sudan for the past 18 years and broadly pits the Muslim-controlled government in the north against rebels of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, made up mainly of Christian and animists in the south who are seeking autonomy. The Nuba Mountains region has been aligned with southern rebels since 1985.

Mr. Piffaretti, an aide to Swiss Ambassador Josef Bucher, who is chairing the negotiations, has said the cease-fire talks are going well and the atmosphere is very constructive. He said the parties are now discussing the conditions for a limited, but renewable cease-fire.

The Swiss and U.S. governments are co-sponsoring the talks. Mr. Piffaretti says Switzerland and the U.S. are playing specific roles in the talks.

"The Swiss delegation is leading the political discussions, so some arrangements on the political level, the political framework to the agreement. The American delegation is working rather on the technical aspects of the cease-fire agreement," he said.

The cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains is part of a package of confidence-boosting measures the government and rebels are discussing. Others include a halt to aerial bombardments by the government, resumption of aid delivery and efforts to end enslavement of civilians by government militia.