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Sudan foes to sign final peace deal by end of December: Powell


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U.S. Secretatry of State Colin Powell stands next to Sudanese rebel leader John Garang, center right, and Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, right, after holding talks with the pair near the Kenyan town of Naivasha on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003. Sayyid Azim, AP Photo.

By Matthew Lee

NAIVASHA, Kenya, Oct 22 (AFP) — Sudan’s vice president and main rebel leader have pledged to sign a comprehensive deal to end two decades of civil war by the end of December, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday after meeting both men in Kenya.

US President George W. Bush will host leaders of Khartoum’s Islamic government and of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) at the White House once such a deal was signed, Powell said.

Sudan is currently on a US list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Ignited in 1983, the civil war there has killed some 1.5 million people and displaced more than four million.

"Both sides have agreed to continue the talks and reach a comprehensive agreement no later than by the end of December," Powell told a news conference after meeting the vice president, Ali Osman Taha, and SPLA leader John Garang.

"Both gentlemen have committed themselves to that goal," said Powell at the venue of their peace talks near Naivasha, a town 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Nairobi.

Sudanese government spokesman Sayed el-Khatibu later told AFP that the end of December was less a deadline set in stone than "a sign of commitment and sincerity that both sides are making genuine endeavours to end the suffering" in Sudan.

"These negotiations are tough," the spokesman said.

"The coming of Powell was a morale booster. It’s a sign that people in other corners of the world are touched by the devastation in Sudan. We accept anybody who is willing us to help us reach peace," he said.

Asked whether Powell had exerted any pressure on the negotiating parties, he added: "The US is helping us but I have neither seen a carrot nor a stick from their end."

Garang told AFP: "We will achieve peace for our country hopefully, as the secretary of state said, before the end of the year."

Powell told the news conference he felt it was "absolutely clear ... that the way is now open to a final and comprehensive solution" to the war.

"Based on what I have heard, I believe that a final agreement is within the grasp of the parties," he said, a couple of hours before flying from Kenya to the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is expected to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

On Tuesday, Powell told reporters that such a deal, coupled with more work by Khartoum to ease Washington’s concerns about terrorism, could lead to the lifting of US sanctions against Sudan.

In the current round of talks, Taha and Garang are focusing on the status of three central regions claimed by both sides and on how to share power and wealth, notably that of Sudan’s oil reserves.

"Powell came to nudge us in order to achieve peace," Garang told the news conference. "He brought encouragement and hope," he added.

And Taha told reporters: "The issues are not easy, but with determination and commitment, we can overcome."

Previous rounds have already produced crucial agreements on a six-year interim period of self-rule for the south before a referendum and on the security arrangements to put in place during this period.

"Once the parties have signed the final comprehensive agreement for peace, President Bush looks forward and has invited them to come to the White House so that he can recognise their achievement and also endorse the agreement," Powell said.

"We must find a solution. This is a moment of opportunity that must not be lost.

"The people of Sudan have known hardship and devastation for too long. All the people of Sudan, northerners and southerners alike, are hungry and desperate for an end to this conflict," Powell said.

"It is time now for the leaders assembled here to complete the final stage of this marathon to enable the Sudanese people to experience a new way of life unclouded by the suffering of war," he added.

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