Sudan + 1 more

Former east Sudan rebels enter main towns under deal

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By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, June 24 (Reuters) - Former east Sudan rebel fighters have entered the main towns for the first time under a fledgling peace deal, but opposition divisions have halted political progress, an eastern politician said on Sunday.

The east Sudan strife, overshadowed by bloodier conflicts in Sudan's western Darfur region and the south, dragged on for a decade before a peace deal last year.

It was the third regional peace deal Sudan signed in less than two years, and was negotiated with mediation from neighbouring Eritrea, which had hosted Sudanese opposition groups for many years.

"On the security and military file, all is going very well," said Abdallah Moussa Abdallah, secretary-general of the eastern Beja Congress party in the main regional town Port Sudan.

The Beja Congress is the largest party within the opposition Eastern Front, which negotiated the peace deal with Khartoum in October last year.

He said the first former east rebel troops arrived in Kassala town (near the Eritrean border) two days ago and two other groups were due soon.

"Some 1,300 officers and soldiers arrived and have set up camp," Abdallah told Reuters from Port Sudan. The next batch of 1,500 soldiers should arrive in the coming days, he added.

This was the first time the troops had moved out of rebel camps along the Sudan-Eritrea border into main towns in the east.

East Sudan, which has the nation's largest gold mine and only port where vital crude oil exports flow, is one of the poorest regions in Africa's largest country.

Malnutrition rates are high and there is little investment in infrastructure or services, despite substantial government revenues from the port.

The deal, signed in October 2006, gives the eastern parties a junior cabinet post in Khartoum and an assistant and adviser to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

They also get eight seats in Khartoum's central parliament and 10 in each of the three eastern states.

But Abdallah said the Eastern Front had internal squabbles over political posts, which was hindering key appointments.

"There was a meeting on this and we expect it to be resolved very soon," he added.

Divisions within Darfur's rebels have also undermined a peace deal signed for Sudan's west last year. With over a dozen factions, it has complicated efforts to restart the peace process.

The 2005 north-south peace deal has seen more implementation but has hit snags over Khartoum's refusal to accept an independent border commission for the oil-rich central region of Abyei. Sudan's two largest oil fields are in south Sudan.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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