Sudan: Next round of talks to focus on disputed areas, says government

NAIROBI, 10 February (IRIN) - Peace talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), due to resume on 1 March, will focus on the three disputed areas of Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains (Southern Kordofan State) and Abyei (further south in Southern Kordofan), according to Muhammad Dirdeiry, the spokesman at the Sudanese embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
"This is the first time to meet on the three areas," he told IRIN on Monday, adding that the talks would take place outside the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development negotiation process, which would resume on 16 March.

The SPLM/A spokesman, Samson Kwaje, told IRIN he had not yet been informed by the mediators of either the date or the subject matter of the talks.

The disputed areas are key to an overall peace deal in Sudan. The government insists that because they are geographically located in the north (according to the 1956 colonial boundaries), they will not have the option of self-determination.

In November 2002, however, the Nuba people held a convention in which they affirmed their wish to remain within SPLM/A-administered territory, and the people of Southern Blue Nile followed suit in December. The people of Abyei have not held a convention, but are also reported to favour remaining within SPLM/A territory, thereby to ensure their right to opt for self-determination.

The third round of peace talks, which ended on 5 February, saw "some progress" made on the issues of wealth and power-sharing, Kwaje told IRIN. "More progress was made compared with the previous round of talks in November 2002," he said.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed by both sides on 6 February, stated that "complete agreement" had been reached on some issues, including the constitutional review process, the independent and national institutions to be established, and the undertaking of a national referendum before elections in six years' time.

There had been "significant, but not comprehensive" agreement on the structure of the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the government of national unity and the government and institutions at sub-national levels, the MOU stated.

Significant progress had also been made on wealth-sharing issues, including monetary and banking issues, and the establishment of a petroleum commission to divide up the oil wealth. Representatives from the World Bank and the IMF had proposed the text of the agreement, the statement said.

The fourth round of talks is expected to fine-tune the details on power and wealth sharing, including the powers of the presidency, and the make-up of the national assembly and civil service.

The forthcoming talks will be building on the Machakos Protocol - an interim accord signed in Kenya in July 2002. Under that agreement, the people of southern Sudan will be allowed to vote on whether or not to secede from the north after a six-year interim period, during which both north and south will be under the control of a national unity government.


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