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End in Sight for Southern Sudan Conflict

Sudan is to officially end its two-decade southern civil war next week with the signing of a peace deal.  

Sudan's president, caught up in the excitement of the long-awaited peace deal, has said he now would be willing to consider wealth and power-sharing agreements with the Darfur rebels.


"The deal in the south puts Sudan on the doorstep of a new era of peace for the whole country," said Jean Baptiste Natama, a senior political officer with the African Union, mediating Darfur peace talks. "It is a means to the solution in Darfur, a necessary bridge."


The comprehensive peace deal for the southern war will be signed on January 9 in Nairobi, Kenya. It comes after government and rebel officials in the south on December 31 concluded two years of peace talks by signing a permanent truce, and endorsed a detailed plan to end the conflict. It includes power and wealth-sharing agreements and a proposed government for an autonomous southern Sudan.


Even before the southern deal was reached, officials inside and outside Sudan had linked the two conflicts, saying peace in the civil war would be key to making progress on the thus-far intractable Darfur front.


On Tuesday, the rebel Sudan Liberation Army accused government soldiers of attacking a base in North Darfur and threatened that rebels would step up military operations in retaliation.


Nevertheless, in its new focus on peace, the Sudanese Government has given assurances that it is serious about solving the Darfur crisis.


Darfur is "definitely" next on the government's list of priorities, said Deputy Information Minister Abdel Dafe Khattib, saying the conclusion of the southern peace deal has brought a positive feeling.


"There is a different mood, one of trying to mend fences. I think it is going to help" with Darfur, he said. "The government itself is trying to mend fences with all factions, inside and out, be it American, European or our neighbors."


Natame, the African Union official, said the southern peace deal and reforms that should come from it include all of Sudan's marginalized areas, and urged the Darfur rebels to closely scrutinize the agreement.


"I think it will be of some interest to the rebels in Darfur to get a glance to see whether their interests are addressed or not," Natame said.


On Wednesday, the United Nations said a rebel threat to withdraw from a ceasefire monitoring commission in Sudan's troubled Darfur region would spell disaster for the faltering peace process.


It also said mediation between the warring parties was stuck with neither side willing to make concessions.


The rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) told the government on Tuesday to withdraw troops by the end of the week from all territory occupied in the past two months or it would pull out of the ceasefire monitoring body.


Radhia Achouri, a spokeswoman for the UN advance mission in Sudan, said this would be terrible for efforts to end a conflict.


"Obviously, if the SLA make this threat a matter of fact ... that would be a disastrous thing to happen because we do not believe that any of the parties have any interest in destroying the little fragile gains they have (made)," Achouri said.


The latest meeting of the commission monitoring a much violated April truce ended on Tuesday in Chad with nothing agreed.


"The African Union and Chadian mediation is trying to do their best but we can only agree that this is not working," Achouri said.


(China Daily January 7, 2005)

Sudanese Gov't to Celebrate Final Peace Agreement
Sudan Handles Darfur Issue in Cautious Way
Darfur Peace Talks Suspended As Rebels Pull Out
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