Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Peace in Sudan?

Secretary of State Colin Powell in Kenya Wednesday, announced that the Sudanese government and rebels fighting a 20-year civil war are committed to reaching a lasting peace. Powell expects a deal to be reached by the end of the year.

Powell spoke to reporters in the presence of Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA leader John Garang. Powell stated the United States would help the sides reach a final agreement.

Powell said, "we must find a solution, this is a moment of opportunity that must not be lost.'' He continued, "the people of Sudan have known hardship and devastation for too long ... it's time now for the leaders assembled here to complete the final stages of this marathon.''

Both leaders said they were committed to peace but difficult issues still needed to be resolved before any real relief can be said to be ahead.

Powell's presence brought ``hope and encouragement and that is very valuable,'' Garang said. ``We will achieve peace hopefully as the Secretary of State said before the end of the year,'' he declared.

Negotiations between Taha and Garang are being mediated by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, while the United States, Britain and Norway act as observers. However, they have yet to reach agreement on several issues, including the administration of three territories in central Sudan, the composition of a transitional government, and the division of the country's resources, including oil.

Last month, the two sides agreed that the SPLA should retain its forces in the south during a six-year transition period, after which the southern Sudanese will vote on whether to remain part of Sudan.

In 1983 rebels from the animist and Christian south took up arms against the majority Arab and Muslim north. The fighters state they are waging a war for greater equality for the south. They are also asking for the right of self-determination for southerners to choos their own government.

Sudan is no bed of roses for the Bush administration. U.S. sanctions were imposed on Sudan after President Omar el- Bashir seized power in a 1989 coup. Two million people are said to have died in a famine, the result of the war and sanctions. The country is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum in the early 1990s and had numerous business interests in the country.

Powell said the Islamic government still needed to "take other actions'' against terrorism before the sanctions are dealt with in a "comprehensive way,'' citing the expulsion of members of the militant groups Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as an example.

Recently Sudan has been cooperating in the war against terrorism in the wake of Sept. 11. And El-Bashir's government is keen to resume full diplomatic and business relations with the United States. Maybe we will see some tranquility in the near future, but the people north, south and west have a ways to go before longterm peaceful cohabitation.

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