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Sudanese Peace Talks to Resume Sunday - 2003-07-04

Peace talks aimed at ending 20 years of civil war in Sudan are set to resume Sunday, and the mediator of those negotiations who has been touring the country says the warring sides need to listen to - and talk to - people on the ground.

Kenyan mediator General Lazaro Sumbeiywo says that during his tour of Sudan last month the Sudanese government arrested some of the people who spoke to him.

The purpose of General Sumbeiywo's visit to Sudan was to hear what ordinary people had to say about how to bring peace to their country.

He said he wanted to compare their views with what was being said at peace talks that have been taking place in Kenya for the past year between the Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

General Sumbeiywo says that after some people in the north spoke to him, they were arrested by the government's security forces.

"It bothers me a lot that people were arrested after presenting either documents to us or they just saw us talking," he said.

Sudan's deputy ambassador in Nairobi, Mohammed Dirdeiry, accompanied General Sumbeiywo for part of the tour. He says he has never heard the Kenyan mediator mention the arrests.

"He never rose this issue with me or with any other government official, to my best of knowledge. This is the first time for me to hear that such people has been arrested," he said.

Instead, according to Mr. Dirdeiry says, the mediator was impressed with the large number of people in government-controlled areas who came out to share their views.

General Sumbeiywo stresses that both the Sudanese government and the SPLA need to explain the peace process to the people they represent. He says the two sides also need to show more commitment to achieving peace.

"Both sides must begin working together to change the current mentality of war-mongering and the negative slogans because there are many, and be more inclusive so that others outside the rank and file of their own political cadres will buy into the peace process," he explained.

When the next session of peace talks begins Sunday in the Kenyan Rift Valley town of Nakuru, the two sides are expected to discuss how to share power and wealth, and how to set up security arrangements.

The war in Sudan, which pits a largely Muslim north against a mostly Christian and animist south, has killed an estimated two million people. The conflict is also over land and other resources.