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Sudanese Peace Talks Resume - 2004-01-02

After a New Year's Day break, Sudanese peace talks have resumed in Kenya. The administration of three disputed areas in central Sudan is high on the agenda.

Both the Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, want to govern the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and Abyei.

Government officials claim the areas fall under Khartoum's jurisdiction under terms established at the time of independence.

But the S-P-L-A says people living in those three areas experience the same repression and marginalization as southern Sudanese, and should therefore be included in the south.

The Kenyan mediator of the talks, retired General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, says the two sides are looking at the possibility of making these areas autonomous.

"They've been discussing what the meaning of autonomy means, whether it is self-determination, or whether it is the question of popular consultation, or what it actually means."

S-P-L-A Spokesman Yasser Arman says this portion of the talks is proving to be tough.

"Well, it is really difficult. There's a lot of details, and we are working on a paper, which we classified it into three categories: Areas of agreement, areas of disagreement and gray areas."

He declined to discuss specifics, but said the two sides are still working out the fine print of their earlier wealth-sharing agreement in which the north and south would divide oil revenues equally.

The two sides have been under international pressure to sign a peace agreement as soon as possible. And both sides promised U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell they would sign a deal by December 31st.

When asked whether the negotiators have a new deadline in mind, now that the previous one has passed, General Sumbeiywo said, "your guess is as good as mine."

But many officials and observers are predicting that a final peace agreement could be signed by the end of January. By that time, it is hoped the two sides will settle the key issue of how to share power.