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Powell Urges Sudan to Reach Peace Deal by Year's End - 2003-12-30

Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned key figures in Sudan peace talks Tuesday, urging them to reach their stated goal of a framework accord to end the country's civil war by the end of the year. Mr. Powell was back at work at the State Department Tuesday just two weeks after undergoing successful prostate cancer surgery.

The pursuit of an agreement ending the 20-year civil war in Sudan has been a priority for Mr. Powell. And on his first day back to his office after his surgery, Mr. Powell telephoned three principals in the Kenyan-sponsored peace talks to urge a final push toward a deal.

The calls went to Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir in Khartoum, and the two delegation chiefs at the talks in Kenya, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and southern rebel leader John Garang of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, the SPLA.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the secretary's message to all three was the same: to not let the opportunity for peace elude their grasp. "We continue to do what we can to help the parties reach an agreement, and the sooner the better," he said.

Secretary Powell paid a visit to the talks site at Naivasha, Kenya in October and met with Vice President Taha, Mr. Garang and the Kenyan mediators.

They pledged at that time to try to wrap up negotiations by the end of the year, and Mr. Powell said President Bush would be prepared to celebrate a peace agreement with an event at the White House.

The sides agreed more than a year ago on a six-year period of autonomy for the south to be followed by a referendum on the region's political future.

Issues still to be resolved are understood to include a formula for sharing wealth, including Sudan's growing oil revenues, and the control over three disputed regions.

Officials here acknowledged that a final accord might not be struck by Wednesday's unofficial deadline but they said prospects for an early agreement were good.

President al-Bashir was quoted by the official Sudanese newspaper al-Anbaa Tuesday as saying he expected a deal to be reached by next week.