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Major Obstacle Removed In Sudan Peace Talks - 2003-09-25

Sudan's government and the country's main rebel group signed an agreement Thursday on security issues that are crucial to ending 20 years of civil war.

The two sides reached the deal Wednesday after almost three weeks of talks between Sudan's first vice president, Ali Osman Taha, and the leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (S-P-L-A), John Garang, in the Kenyan town of Naivasha.

Officials told reporters that the two sides agreed that the insurgents will retain their own troops in southern Sudan instead of merging their forces into a new national army.

The officials said the rebels agreed to withdraw their forces from eastern Sudan while the government will reduce the number of its forces in southern Sudan.

The rebels and the government will merge their forces in three disputed areas in central Sudan.

Other key issues that need to be dealt with include how to share Sudan's wealth and resources, especially its coveted oil reserves -- as well as the division of power.

In July, 2002, the two sides reached a ground-breaking accord that granted six years of autonomy to the south, followed by a referendum on independence.

The United States has played a leading role in efforts towards an agreement in Sudan, with special envoy (and former Senator) John Danforth making several trips to the region to meet with both sides.

Since 1983, the rebels, who come from Sudan's mainly Christian and animist southern region, have been fighting for autonomy from the north's mostly Arab and Muslim government. More than two million people have died in the conflict, mainly through conflict-related famine and disease.