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Sudanese North-South Peace Talks Resume - 2004-10-07

The latest, and perhaps the last, round of peace talks between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in the south have opened in Nairobi.

Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and the chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the SPLM, John Garang, told officials and reporters in Nairobi they look forward to signing a deal that will end 21 years of war between them.

What remains to be done after two years of talks is to work out a comprehensive cease-fire agreement and to figure out how to implement the six protocols the two sides have already signed.

The protocols spell out arrangements on such things as how to share power, wealth, and the confinement of Islamic law to the north.

For his part, Mr. Garang was enthusiastic and optimistic about the talks' outcome.

"The challenges facing our country, facing the Sudan today, are so immense that only a reinforced government can address them," Mr. Garang said. "In our view, this government shall take the form of a National Congress Party/SPLM-led broad-based government of national unity as envisaged in the already-concluded and signed six protocols."

Mr. Taha said the Sudanese government is committed to successfully concluding the talks.

"I agree with what was said about the importance of these negotiations and about the role that they are expected to play in the overall peace in Sudan. Therefore, we are going to give it its due attention and care," Mr. Taha said.

Vice President Taha said he looked forward to working with Mr. Garang and that he would try to give insights to the Sudanese delegation on how to resolve the outstanding issues.

Both sides are under increasing pressure to quickly and successfully conclude the talks. The Sudanese government could also face sanctions if it is unable to provide security in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan, an issue not covered within these talks.

The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, said the whole world is closely watching the north-south talks.

He urged the two sides to move forward in their negotiations.

"Temptations of postponing or of biding time in the hope of making more gains elsewhere, outside the process, will only make all of us lose. This is the time to complete what you have started," Mr. Pronk said.

The war has claimed an estimated two million lives and displaced many more since its inception in 1983.

The conflict pits a largely Muslim north against the Christian and animist south. The fighting also centers on oil-rich areas in the south where local populations have been forcibly removed to get to the oil.

It is unclear when the talks will be concluded. Vice President Taha is expected to stay for two or so days.