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Sudanese Peace Talks Adjourn for Ramadan - 2004-10-16

Talks between the Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group in the south have adjourned for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and are expected to reconvene in about a month's time.

In the two weeks they have been negotiating in a Nairobi hotel, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, have been tackling the thorny issue of setting up permanent cease-fire arrangements.

On October 7, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and SPLA chairman John Garang opened the latest round of talks aimed at securing a peace deal to end 21 years of war.

The Kenyan mediator of the talks, retired General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, said the negotiations during these past couple of weeks have been fruitful.

"The discussions between the parties were in a cordial and frank atmosphere, and have resolved most of the outstanding issues, paving the way to achievement of the comprehensive peace agreement on the conflict in the Sudan," he said.

Mr. Sumbeiywo said the two sides agreed to set up a collaborative security force, called Joint Integrated Units, and plan to include the United Nations Peace Support Mission in cease-fire arrangements.

Still to be ironed out are issues including funding arrangements for the armed forces and a timetable for integrating other armed groups into existing structures.

Mr. Sumbeiywo said Mr. Taha and Mr. Garang are scheduled to resume talks some time after the end of Ramadan in about a month's time.

"Furthermore, the two parties committed themselves to finalize and conclude the comprehensive peace agreement, in recognition that prompt completion of the peace process is essential for all the people of the Sudan, as it will help [in] resolving all challenges facing the country," said Lazaro Sumbeiywo.

What remains to be done after two years of peace talks is to finalize 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 and wealth, and the confinement of Islamic law to the north.

The war has claimed an estimated two million lives, and displaced many more since it began in 1983.

The conflict pits the largely Muslim north against the mostly Christian and animist south. The fighting also centers on oil-rich areas in the south.

It is unclear when the talks will conclude.