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Cease-Fire Holding in Sudan - 2002-01-31

Sudan's government says a 10 day old cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains marks the start of a fundamental shift towards peace in the country. But southern rebels are much less hopeful.

A Sudanese diplomat says a cease-fire between government forces and rebels is holding. Sudan's warring parties agreed to a six-month cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan earlier this month in U.S. and Swiss mediated talks.

Ahmed Mohamed Dirdeiry, a senior Sudanese embassy official in Nairobi, says the 10 day old cease-fire is holding firmly with no violations. Mr. Dirdeiry says he is optimistic that the Nuba Mountains cease-fire marks the beginning of the road to peace in Sudan. "We are positive about the future of this agreement," he said. "We really feel that there is quite a fundamental shift towards peace in Sudan. And that what is right now happening in the Nuba Mountains could be only the start and the beginning of a comprehensive cease-fire, according to a piecemeal approach and according to what right now has started there."

But Samson Kwaje, spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army, disagrees. He describes Mr. Dirdeiry's comments as political propaganda, charging that the government of Sudan created the crisis by denying access to the Nuba Mountains.

Mr. Kwaje says the purpose of the cease-fire is to allow humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains. He says the Sudan People's Liberation Army is not likely to extend the current cease-fire to southern Sudan. "It is not likely because what is happening, the cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains is a humanitarian cease-fire and it has got nothing to do with southern Sudan," he said. "Southern Sudan so far is covered by the tripartite agreement between the government of Sudan, the U.N. and us in 1989. But the Nuba Mountains has been denied humanitarian access by the government of Sudan. So this cease-fire is now brokered to take care of that."

Mr. Kwaje says cease-fires in other parts of southern Sudan would be subject to a resolution of the political issues that caused the war in the first place namely southern Sudan's desire for self-determination.

The Sudan People's Liberation Army has been fighting the Islamic government in Khartoum since 1983. They are demanding more autonomy and religious freedom for southern Sudan. More than two million people have died during the 18 year civil war.

Last week, barely 24 hours after the cease-fire came into effect, the Sudan People's Liberation Army rebels accused the government of violating it. Mr. Dirdeiry, the Sudanese government official, insists the battle took place before the cease-fire went into effect and was, in any case, started by the rebels.

A joint ceasefire commission including the government and rebels, and chaired by U.S. and Swiss mediators, is to be established on February 5. The commission agreement calls for deployment of troops in early March and international monitors 15 days later.