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Sudan Officials, Rebels Meet in Talks to End Civil War - 2002-08-12

Sudanese rebels and the government of Sudan are meeting today for talks many believe are the best chance of ending Sudan's 19-year-old civil war.

The talks in Machakos, Kenya, follow discussions in July that produced a major breakthrough in efforts to end Sudan's almost two decades old civil war.

Since 1983, rebels in mostly Christian southern Sudan have been fighting for greater autonomy from the Muslim north and for exemption from Islamic law.

An estimated 1.5-2 million people have been killed as a result of the conflict.

In July, the government in Khartoum agreed to both demands during the first round of peace negotiations including the right for the south to vote on secession in six years.

The talks getting underway Monday are scheduled to last five weeks, and must address such issues as power-sharing, wealth-sharing and a cease-fire.

Political analyst Abdel Moneim Said says there is plenty of time to decide the issue of sharing power, but, he says, because there are several factions in the south, it could wind up being the most difficult issue to negotiate. "We have two transitional stages," he pointed out. "We have six months from the negotiations of today, in which to reach a complete agreement, and we have six years for implementation. So, what will we do in the six months and the six years of sharing power, and sharing power between who and who? Between the government and the rebellion? What about the rebellion forces in the south? What will be the share of the Dinka, which is the leading tribal force in the rebellion forces in the south, with the other tribal gatherings in the south?"

However Mr. Said, who heads the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says that for the first time there is a kind of understanding about the basic issues of the conflict, and he believes both sides have reached a point of exhaustion, and are ready for negotiations.

Observers from Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States are attending the latest round of discussions.

Both sides are under enormous regional and international pressure to find peace. However, despite the agreements reached in July, fierce fighting has continued, with reports of as many as 300 people killed over the past month and thousands displaced. The government described the battles as an effort to protect oil fields in southern Sudan.