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Powell Optimistic on Sudan

Secretary of State sits in on peace talks. He says he sees a final agreement within reach and urges the two sides to sign an accord by the year's end.

October 23, 2003|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

NAIVASHA, Kenya — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell attended peace talks here Wednesday aimed at ending Sudan's 20-year civil war and called the negotiations between the government and the main rebel movement "a moment of opportunity that must not be lost."

Powell expressed confidence that the two parties were committed to ending the war -- which has displaced 3 million people and left 2 million dead, mostly from disease and malnutrition -- and urged them to sign a peace deal by the year's end.

"Based on what I have heard here today ... I believe the final agreement is within the grasp of the parties," Powell told reporters after meeting with leaders from both sides.

The government in the north and the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army in the south have been negotiating for two years. Although peace efforts have failed in the past, analysts say the talks are the most promising development in Sudan since conflict began in 1983.

Last month, the government and the rebels agreed for the first time to move most of their fighters out of each other's territory and form an integrated force of about 40,000 soldiers. Both sides say they will continue to consult in this lakeside resort until they reach a peace deal.

Powell urged the participants to "complete the final stage of this marathon" to enable Sudan's 38 million people "to experience a new way of life unclouded by the suffering of war."

The Sudanese war -- between the Muslim north, which considers itself Arab, and the African south, which is mostly animist and Christian -- has been marked by its brutality against civilians, who have been bombed by government aircraft, abducted by Arab slave-traders and drafted into rebel platoons as child soldiers.

No agreement was expected Wednesday; the purpose of Powell's visit was mainly to boost morale and reiterate America's commitment to the peace process.

Ending Sudan's war, with its religious and ethnic undertones, has become a rallying cry for African American politicians and Christian conservatives. Some analysts say a U.S.-assisted deal in Sudan could help President Bush on the campaign trail next year.

In 2001, Bush dispatched former Sen. John C. Danforth to the region to monitor discussions leading to a cease-fire last year. In 2002, Bush signed the Sudan Peace Act, which will allocate $100 million in aid over three years to underdeveloped areas in Sudan. The funds are conditional on good-faith negotiations between the two parties.

Although Powell said he was pleased with the progress so far, he said contentious issues remain, including the structure of an interim government; the allocation of national revenue, especially oil profits; and the administration of three disputed areas: the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile and Abyei.

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