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Sudan Peace Talks Stall; Government Refuses to Attend - 2003-01-15

Peace talks aimed at ending 20 years of war in Sudan failed to get started as scheduled. The Sudanese government delegation refused to attend.

A senior official at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi, Mohamed Dirdeiry, says his government did not send a delegation to the talks in Karen, just outside Nairobi, because it did not agree with the agenda.

Earlier in the week, the government in Khartoum said it would not send a delegation because it had not been formally invited.

The agenda controversy involves the location of the border between northern and southern Sudan. The government wants it to remain as it was at independence in 1956.

But rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, who control much of the south, want to renegotiate the status of three areas which are currently in the north, but have been fighting with the rebels.

The Sudanese government previously agreed to discuss the issue, but now the Sudanese diplomat, Mr. Dirdeiry, is accusing Kenya of injecting the issue into the talks set for the Kenyan town of Karen. He says these talks are outside the framework of main peace talks mediated by the regional conflict resolution group IGAD, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

"Karen is a new process, a process mediated by Kenya and not by the IGAD. A process on the three areas within northern Sudan and having nothing to do with southern Sudan," Mr. Dirdeiry said.

But the main IGAD mediator was in Karen, ready to work on this round of talks.

Rebel spokesman, Samson Kwaje, said the status of the three areas must be resolved before negotiators can move on to other issues. "We cannot discuss security arrangements unless we resolve the issues of the three areas. Otherwise, we may have peace between the south and north but there will be fighting in Abyei, in southern Blue Nile and southern Kordofan and these forces are SPLA forces," he said.

The SPLA took up arms against the Sudanese government in 1983 to fight for greater autonomy for the south.

After 20 years of war, the tension and suspicion between the two sides makes progress extremely slow and difficult.

But there was a great deal of progress in peace talks between Sudan's warring parties last year. And the two sides signed a cease-fire, which expires at the end of March.