Christian churches in Sudan say they -- and civil society -- should be included in peace talks between the Islamacist and northern-based governnment and the Christian and animist rebels of the south. Church leaders say without their involvment, the talks may not produce a popular solution to the civil war.

The Reverend Dr. Konrad Raiser is general-secretary of the World Council of Churches, or WCC. He says the talks ? which he calls a positive initiative ? need to include religious and civil society leaders, if only as observers.

Dr Raiser ? who has just returned from the south -- says there is a general feeling among the Sudanese that the rebels and the government do not really represent a broad spectrum of the people: "They felt that the negotiators from both sides have a very limited base of, they felt that the churches -- being the organizations that at least in the south are closest to everyday life conditions of people -- were probably the most appropriate spokespeople for the concerns of the people."

The Church is already concerned that some provisions in the preliminary Machakos protocol, signed by the government and rebels in July, do not enjoy popular support. One is the six-year interval between a cease-fire and a referendum to determine how much autonomy ? or even independence ? will be granted to Southern Sudan. The clergy and activists say most southerners want a referendum to determine their future soon.

The civil war dates back to independence from Britain in the 1950s except for an interlude of peace between 1972 and 1984 that was partly brokered by the WCC and the All Africa Conference of Churches.

Full scale civil war resumed after former military ruler General Jaffer al Nimeiry decided to declare Sudan a Moslem state. The move ignited violent protests from Christians and animists in the south, who teamed up into various rebel groups. The SPLA under Colonel John Garang has emerged as the most powerful rebel group representing the majority of southern Sudanese aspirations for self-determination.

Under the Machakos Protocol, the SPLA and the government are to agree on the composition of an interim central government. The Sudanese government is to announce a clear separation of state and religion in return for a comprehensive cease-fire by the SPLA in the south.