By PRISCILLA CHEUNG Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 29, 2003 (AP) — Sudan’s government and the main rebel group, who are negotiating an end to a 20-year civil war, both want a major U.N. role in monitoring an eventual cease-fire, a U.N. envoy said Monday.
Tom Vraalsen, returning from meetings with officials on both sides, said he was optimistic that the bloodshed would finally end as the sides remained committed to finding a comprehensive peace agreement.
“I left (the meetings) more confident than ever that there will be a peace agreement in Sudan,” Vraalsen, the U.N. special envoy for humanitarian needs for Sudan for the past five years, said at a news briefing.
“It is impressive to listen to them,” he added. “They will stay engaged as long as it takes to bring the talks to a successful end.”
More than 2 million people have died in the conflict, mainly through war-induced famine and disease, since it erupted in 1983, when southern rebels took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim northern government in a bid to obtain greater autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south.
Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha and John Garang, leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, held three weeks of unprecedented talks in Kenya. They overcame a major stumbling block to end the conflict by signing an agreement on security arrangements last week for a six-year transition period.
The parties also have agreed to an internationally monitored cease-fire, which would come into effect once they have reached a comprehensive peace deal.
“There was a strong expression on both sides for a broadly engaged role by the United Nations in implementation of the agreements,” said Vraalsen, who met with Taha, Garang and other negotiators in Sudan and Kenya. “The priority now would be, first of all, to monitor a cease-fire.”
He said a monitoring mission should be ready by the time the peace agreement is signed, but didn’t give details.
U.N. agencies and the offices in the region have begun planning their work in Sudan, Vraalsen said.
Helping millions of refugees within and outside Sudan return to their homes will be a major challenge, he said.
The United Nations also is calling for donor funding for a new US$142.3 million package of so-called “quick-start programs,” which would include assistance in food security, agriculture, health, water, and the demobilization of child soldiers and human rights, a statement said.
Following the signing of the security agreement last week, working groups will convene next Monday to negotiate power- and wealth-sharing arrangements, as well as the running of contested territories in Sudan, Vraalsen said.
Taha and Garang will return to talks next month. A comprehensive agreement is not expected before the end of the year because talks are expected to slow down during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan and the Christmas holidays, Vraalsen said.