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Sudan 'Not Invited to Peace Talks,' says Khartoum Government - 2003-01-13

Kenyan-mediated talks between the Sudanese government and southern-based rebels may be delayed because the Sudan government said it has not received an invitation.

The Sudanese government said it cannot attend the latest round of peace talks, scheduled to begin Wednesday in Machakos, Kenya.

In a letter to the media Monday, the government in Khartoum said the head of IGAD, the East African regional group that has been mediating the peace process, has never invited the government to attend.

The government said what it has received is a letter from a Kenyan IGAD mediator suggesting that the two sides meet on January 15 to address the problems of central Sudan. Khartoum said it does not consider that an invitation and it will continue to wait for the IGAD secretariat to set a formal date sometime this month. The Nairobi-based spokesman for the rebels, Samson Kwaje, said all parties agreed on the January 15 date during last month's talks in Washington. He accused the government of trying to derail the peace process so that it can continue its military offensives against the rebels in southern Sudan.

"For the past one week, they have been attacking SPLA positions in the whole of the western Upper Nile. We also hear they are doing a lot of mobilization and transporting of troops," Mr. Kwaje explained.

The Wednesday start date for the peace talks is significant because President Bush's special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth, is in Kenya to help IGAD mediate an end to Africa's longest-running civil war.

This is the former senator's third trip to Kenya since he was appointed nearly a year and a half ago. The United States is eager to bring political and economic stability to Sudan, an oil-rich country that has been used by Osama bin Laden and other Muslim extremists for terrorist activities.

During talks in Kenya last July, the Muslim government in Khartoum agreed to grant the mainly Christian and animist south a six-year period of self-rule. A second round of talks started in August to refine the July agreement, but a rebel victory in the south prompted the Sudanese government to suspend negotiations. A month-long discussion in mid-October ended without much progress.

Meanwhile, another effort sponsored by the East African regional group suffered a setback Monday. One of Somalia's key warlords abruptly pulled out of peace talks aimed at ending that country's civil war.

The warlord, Musa Sudi Yalahow, and his delegation left Kenya and flew back to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, complaining the two-and-a-half month old talks were not making any progress toward a solution.

Leading Somali warlords, politicians, intellectuals, elders, and other representatives have been in the western Kenyan town of Eldoret since October 27 to find a way to end Somalia's on-going factional wars.