U.S. special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth, says he believes a peace deal between the Sudan government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army will be signed before the end of the year. Mr. Danforth told a news conference here that he is optimistic about the peace prospects for the first time since he was appointed special envoy for Sudan almost one year ago.
He said his meetings with Sudanese officials and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) left him with the belief that both have a new desire for peace. He said the two sides realize that they cannot win the war militarily and are taking the peace talks seriously.
Mr. Danforth said the fact that the international community is giving stronger support to the peace process than it ever has done before is also helping, as is President Bush's personal interest in peace in Sudan.
However, the former U.S. senator warned that paper is only paper, and that peace involves a lot of hard work.
Mr. Danforth also praised the leadership of General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the Kenyan mediator at the peace talks in Machakos. Mr. Danforth was speaking on his return from a trip to Egypt and Sudan and to Machakos where the peace talks are underway.
This second round of talks between the government of Sudan and the SPLA began last week. They are due to end on September 14.
At last month's negotiations, there was a major breakthrough when the government of Sudan and the SPLA signed the Machakos Protocol. This grants southern Sudan the right to hold a referendum on secession after a six year transition period. It also exempts the south from Sharia law, which governs northern Sudan.
These are two of the main reasons that the SPLA took up arms against Khartoum in 1983. Some two million people have since died, mainly as a result of war-related famine.