A second round of talks aimed at ending Sudan's 19-year-old civil war is scheduled to begin in Kenya on Monday. It is estimated that as many as a 1.5 million people have been killed in Sudan's nearly two decades old civil war. On July 20, a provisional peace agreement was reached that would allow mostly Christian southern Sudan the right, after six years, to secede from the Muslim north.

Monday's second round of negotiations is expected to focus on reaching a cease-fire, and close attention is being paid by, among others, the United States and Egypt.

U.S. oil companies have been banned from operating in Sudan as a result of sanctions linked to the Sudanese government's alleged support of international terrorism. Peace could allow the oil companies the opportunity to expand exploration in Sudan, where there is an estimated three billion barrels of oil reserves.

Egypt and Libya have proposed their own peace plan that, among other things, opposes southern secession from the north. Egypt is keenly interested in the peace negotiations because it fears independence for the south could increase competition for precious water from the Nile and boost Islamism in the north.

As part of the peace process, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said Saturday that, as a goodwill gesture, government forces will not take up arms except in self-defense. He also announced he is lifting a ban on political parties he imposed when he seized power in 1989. Political parties will now be allowed to participate in parliamentary elections.

However, the president placed conditions on those parties, saying only parties that were represented in parliament before the 1989 coup can apply for license. The president's decree also said the parties should renounce the use of force and commit to the peaceful transition of power.

Those conditions effectively exclude the main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, from participating. The SPLA has been leading the fight for more autonomy for southern Sudan.