Sudan government and rebels to share oil revenue

Dec 20, 2003 01:00 AM

The government and rebels have moved a step closer to ending Sudan's 20-year civil war after agreeing on how to divide the country's oil revenue -- a key stumbling block in the peace talks, the chief mediator said. Lazaro Sumbeiywo told the two sides had agreed in principle on how to share the oil revenue and were working to reach a full agreement on wealth sharing.
"It's a major breakthrough. It was one of the contentious issues holding back the talks," Sumbeiywo said.

Yasir Arman, spokesman for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, said a joint committee was working to finalize a comprehensive wealth sharing agreement "anytime now."
"We have resolved some difficult points on wealth sharing," Arman said. "We have made a real breakthrough."

Neither Arman nor Sumbeiywo would provide further details, and Sudanese government officials declined to comment. The struggle for resources has been one of the main issues in Africa's longest-running conflict, which broke out in 1983 when southern rebels from the mainly animist and Christian south took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim north. The rebels say they are fighting for greater equality for the south and for southerners to have the right to choose whether to remain part of Sudan.
Sudan began producing oil in 1999 from fields mainly located along an imaginary line that divides southern and northern Sudan, and is producing some 250,000 bpd. When production began, the rebels and international human rights groups accused the Sudanese government of forcing tens of thousands of southern villagers to flee the oil region.

The latest session of negotiations began in the Kenyan town of Naivasha on Nov. 20 and had been expected to adjourn for the Christmas holidays. But the talks continued after the parties failed to reach any agreement on the outstanding issues, which also include the SPLA's representation in a transitional government, National Assembly and civil service, and the administration of three disputed areas in central Sudan.
Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and SPLA leader John Garang have been leading the negotiations since September and achieved a major breakthrough that month by agreeing that the SPLA should retain its forces in the south during the six-year transition period.

In October, Secretary of State Colin Powell met Garang and Taha in Naivasha, 60 miles northwest of Nairobi, and called on the sides to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year. Powell called the parties to encourage them to move forward, the State Department said.
The war has claimed more than 2 mm lives, mainly due to war-induced famine, and has wreaked havoc across impoverished southern Sudan. Shortly after the negotiations began in July 2002, the parties agreed to a six-year transition period after which southerners will vote in a referendum on whether the south should secede.

Source: The Associated Press
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