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Sudan's Warring Parties Make Progress Toward Final Settlement - 2004-05-25

Kenya says Sudan and the southern-based Sudanese rebels plan to sign a comprehensive agreement Wednesday to end Africa's longest-running civil war.

The Kenyan foreign ministry is hailing the accord as a major breakthrough to resolve the 21-year conflict between the Sudanese government and Sudan People's Liberation Army.

A signing ceremony is planned for Wednesday in the western Kenyan town of Naivasha, where the two sides have been engaged in Kenyan-mediated peace talks.

Details of the agreements have not been made public, and Kenyan mediators were unavailable for comment. Sudanese officials and rebel spokesmen declined to comment.

The Kenyan foreign ministry says the agreements are on key outstanding issues of power-sharing, and the status of the disputed regions of the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei.

But sources familiar with the talks say more negotiations will be required before comprehensive ceasefire and implementation agreements are signed.

One observer of the process, Jan (Yahn) Kamenju of Nairobi's Security Research and Information Center, says the sides must also work out a way to end the trafficking of weapons.

"All in all, it will be very good," he said. "The only thing we must be careful about at this stage is the flow of arms. And I hope this is one of the considerations that they have, and make it a priority, that they start their disarmament as a part of the agreement."

The Sudanese conflict began in 1983. An estimated two million people have died during the war, many from famine and disease.

The SPLA represents the mainly Christian and animist southerners, while the Khartoum government is controlled by Muslim Arabs.

The peace process in Kenya began in 2002. The talks have produced earlier accords on sharing the wealth from Sudan's oil-driven economy, as well as status-of-forces during a six-year transition period.

The conflict in southern Sudan is not related to the 15-month war in the western Darfur region of the country, which the United Nations has classified as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.