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Sudan Peace Talk Participants Say Little about Progress

Participants in the Kenyan-sponsored talks to end Sudan's 20 year-long civil war are saying little about the progress of high-level negotiations, which began Friday. Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Kenya, hoping to witness the signing of a final peace accord between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army.

Participants, including officials of the regional body mediating the talks and representatives from the warring parties, decline to discuss the details and the progress of the talks.

A series of high-level meetings is taking place behind closed-doors in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, about 90 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, between Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and rebel leader John Garang.

The two leaders arrived Friday in Kenya, acknowledging that they are under renewed international pressure to bring an end to a civil war that has claimed the lives of millions of people in the past two decades.

Mr. Garang said both sides will work hard to clear the final obstacles that stand in the way of a permanent peace accord. "We are totally committed to peace. I am prepared to stay as long as it takes, until we resolve the issues that are outstanding," he said.

Mr. Garang and Vice President Taha held their first face-to-face meeting last month. That resulted in an important security agreement, which immediately raised hope that the men could reach a similar deal on several other unresolved issues. These include the means of sharing power and oil resources in the south, and the political status of three areas under dispute.

But in what could be a major setback to the talks, an Egyptian daily newspaper Monday quoted Mr. Taha as saying that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir will stay in power for six more years. The announcement effectively rejects a power-sharing arrangement the rebels have demanded.

The rebels, who earlier negotiated for the right for the mostly-Christian southern Sudan to have a six-year period of autonomy from the Arab Muslim north, have called for a rotating presidency during the transitional period.

The State Department says Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel this week to the site of the talks in Naivasha. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Mr. Powell is making the trip to encourage progress in the peace process. He says the success of the talks is an important goal for the Bush administration. The United States has been pressing both sides to negotiate in good faith and has threatened to tighten sanctions against the government in Khartoum and assist the rebels should it determine that the government is not cooperating in the peace process.

In April, President George Bush determined that the Sudanese government was negotiating in good faith and waived the imposition of new sanctions. He must make a new evaluation of the situation next month.

Sudan is seeking to have all existing sanctions lifted and to have its name removed from the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism.