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US Effort to Speed Up Sudan Peace Talks Stalls

In Kenya, President Bush's special envoy to Sudan, John Danforth, met with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha in a bid to speed up the Kenyan-mediated peace talks. But the government in Khartoum is refusing to negotiate a key issue that stands in the way of a comprehensive deal.

The spokesman for the American Embassy in Nairobi, Peter Claussen, says former U.S. Senator John Danforth is in Kenya to nudge forward the last critical round of negotiations between the Sudanese government and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army.

"John Danforth, who was named over two years ago as special envoy for peace in Sudan, is visiting Kenya this week at the direction of President Bush to meet with the various negotiating parties, as the Sudan peace talks move into their final stages," he explained.

The Sudanese government and the rebels, who have been at war for more that two decades, removed one major obstacle toward peace last week by signing an accord on wealth sharing. But they have yet to agree on how to share power and territory.

Of the two remaining issues, the status of three areas on the border between Sudan's north and south is the most contested. The rebels claim territory in Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei, which are currently part of the north.

Delegates at the talks, mediated by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, say negotiations have been underway to resolve the dispute. But the official Sudan News Agency quoted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir as saying the representatives at those talks had no authority to negotiate the dispute.

President Bashir says the government would oppose any attempt to redraw the boundary between northern and southern Sudan.

The SPLA rebels have not commented on Mr. Bashir's statement. But they have reportedly told Mr. Danforth that they intend to try to reach an agreement on power-sharing and territory in the coming days.

In July 2002, the warring sides agreed to hold a referendum on secession in the south after a six-year transition period. That period will begin once a comprehensive peace accord is signed.

The largely Christian and animist rebels have been fighting for autonomy from the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum. More than two million people died in the war and four million others fled their homes.