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No Progress Reported in Latest Round of Sudanese Peace Talks

The latest round of Sudanese peace talks ended with no progress on agreeing terms of a draft peace proposal.

During the latest round of talks, the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), were to work out the contentious details of a protocol agreed in July last year in the Kenyan town of Machakos.

Under the Machakos Protocol, the two sides agreed on the separation of state and religion in southern Sudan and a six-year transition period, after which southerners would hold a referendum on whether to secede or remain part of Sudan.

The government delegation spokesman, Said al-Khatib, said the draft framework, drawn up by mediators, was unbalanced.

"I think that in this latest proposal, I just can't say that they are balanced. And, in light of the violations of former agreements, I would wonder as to the departure from the spirit and letter of the Machakos Protocol," he said. "I would say that the mediator should be impartial, otherwise, we will not attain peace."

Another government spokesperson said the draft proposal called for two separate armies and defense ministers, one from the government-controlled north and one from the rebel-held south, and two banking systems, measures he says pave the way for two countries, instead of a united Sudan.

He also said the proposal called for Khartoum to be a secular capital during the transition period. The SPLA has argued that Khartoum should not be subject to the Islamic law applied in all government-controlled regions, because most southerners do not subscribe to that law. The government says that the Machakos Protocol makes it clear that the north, including Khartoum, should be ruled by Islamic law.

But the mediator of the peace talks, retired general Lazarus Sumbeiywo, says the draft proposal is balanced.

"They have a right to suggest what they want," he said. "My proposal is fair and the international community agreed with me that it was fair. I am very impartial, and they have acknowledged themselves on many occasions, including today."

Mr. Sumbeiywo said the talks would resume toward the end of the month, and that the concerns raised by the government delegation would be addressed.

The war in Sudan pits the largely Christian and animist south against the mostly Muslim and Arab north. An estimated two-million people have died in the 20-year conflict.