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Mediator Hopes to Restart Sudan Peace Talks Next Week - 2003-01-16

The mediator trying to end Sudan's 20-year civil war is hoping to restart talks next week. Mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo says if all goes well, the third round of peace talks between the government of Sudan and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army will open next Wednesday.

Mr. Sumbeiywo, who represents the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which is organizing the talks, says he will discuss the plan with the two parties Friday.

Talks were to start Wednesday, but the Sudan government refused to attend, complaining that it was not happy with the agenda. Participants were being asked to discuss the status of three disputed areas in the center of the country.

The government of Sudan says the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development is only mandated to discuss southern Sudan. As these three areas are in northern Sudan, it argues that they can only be discussed under a separate, parallel process.

Mohamed Dirdeiry, a senior official at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi, says the issues causing the fighting in the Nuba Mountains, southern Blue Nile, and Abyei regions are not the same as those causing the war in southern Sudan.

"The nature of the conflict there is completely different and we have to address that conflict on its merits if we want peace to really be reached or realized in that part of the country," he said.

Mr. Dirdeiry says he believes the conflict in the three areas is about underdevelopment, while the conflict in southern Sudan is centered on cultural and religious differences with the north. He says the three areas are Muslim, unlike southern Sudan, which is predominantly Christian and animist.

Rebel leader John Garang dismisses this argument, saying that the only issue that matters is bringing peace to the whole of Sudan.

"There are really no parallel talks as such," he said. "We are solving the problem of war in the Sudan and the problem of war in the Sudan is not parallel. It is the whole body that aches. If your arm is hurting your whole body hurts."

Mr. Garang argues that the three areas are, politically and militarily, already part of the south. He says that, having fought alongside the rebels, the three areas should be granted the same concessions being offered to the south.

The government disputes Mr. Garang's claim that the three areas are allied with the southern rebels.

Last year, significant progress was made towards ending Sudan's 20-year civil war. But the tension and suspicion between the two sides continues to make progress extremely slow and difficult.