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Powell Set to Join Sudan Peace Talks - 2003-10-21

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday joins Kenyan-hosted peace talks on Sudan, hoping to give a boost to efforts to end the African country's 20-year-old civil war. He'll meet in the town of Naivasha outside Nairobi with the top negotiators from the Khartoum government and southern rebels.

Mr. Powell will not preside at the signing ceremony, but an agreement on a power-sharing arrangement between the former warring parties is reported within reach, and the secretary says he hopes to inject momentum into the final stage of negotiations.

The secretary will travel to the conference site northwest of Nairobi to join the chief negotiators of the two sides, Vice President Ali Othman Taha of the Sudanese government and John Garang, head of the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, the SPLA.

In comments after a meeting late Tuesday with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Mr. Powell said there is a window of opportunity to end Africa's longest running civil conflict, a moment he said, must not be lost. "I look forward to my conversations tomorrow with Dr. John Garang and Vice President Taha to encourage them to move forward quickly and aggressively to resolve the outstanding issues that exist between the sides on the subjects of power-sharing wealth sharing, and some of the other issues that have to be dealt with. Sudan has suffered too long. Too many people have died. It is now an opportunity for them to resolve this conflict, in the spirit of reconciliation and moving forward and bringing a more hopeful life to all the people of Sudan," he said.

Mr. Powell told reporters traveling with him that a comprehensive peace accord, long sought by the Bush administration, would open a "new day" in U.S. relations with Sudan. He said this would involve the early upgrading of diplomatic ties and the possible end to various U.S. sanctions against Sudan, including its listing by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.

But the secretary said the Bush administration wants Sudan to do more on counter-terrorism, in particular ending any presence in Khartoum by the radical Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The Sudan conflict, pitting the Islamic government in the north against the mainly Christian and animist rebels in the south, has killed an estimated two million people in combat and war related famine since fighting erupted in 1983.

The parties agreed more than a year ago on a six-year period of autonomy for the south capped by a referendum on the political future of the region.

A deal last month on security arrangements for the autonomy period set the stage for the current and potentially final round of talks, which opened in the lakeside town of Naivasha last Friday.

Mr. Powell's meeting with Kenyan President Kibaki was a follow-up to the Kenyan leader's visit to Washington earlier this month, and it also covered efforts by Kenya and its east African neighbors of IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on development, for peace and reconciliation to Somalia.

Mr. Kibaki said he and Mr. Powell welcomed progress made in the Kenyan-based talks, which began a year ago, and said they appealed to the handful of Somali groups who have pulled out of the talks to return to negotiations.