WASHINGTON, Jan 7 (AFP) — US Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Sudan and southern rebel leaders to conclude a peace deal after the two sides inked a wealth-sharing pact that is critical to an overall agreement. Powell spoke by phone with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, shortly after the two men witnessed the signing of the wealth-sharing component in Kenya, the State Department said. Powell called the pair “to encourage them to continue to make progress and to say that we would continue to work with them to try to achieve the goal that we all set, which was to reach a final agreement,” spokesman Richard Boucher said. Powell, who visited the site of the Kenyan-mediated peace talks in October, is “encouraging them and telling them how important it is for them to reach agreements,” he told reporters. Boucher noted that the two sides had failed to meet a self-imposed December 31 deadline to forge a comprehensive deal but said the United States, which has been pushing hard for an agreement, would continue its efforts. It “still remains a very high priority,” he said. “We’ve made considerable progress, but it’s important for all the parties to work hard to finish it up.” Earlier Wednesday in Naivasha, the site of ongoing Kenyan-mediated negotiations, the two sides signed the wealth-sharing accord that provides for an approximate 50-50 split of Sudan’s oil revenue and other income between the government and an envisaged autonomous administration in the south to be run by the political wing of SPLA. It will come into effect once a comprehensive peace accord is signed and remain in force during an planned six-year interim period in which southern Sudan will enjoy autonomy before a referendum on its future. Still unresolved is the future status of three disputed areas in central Sudan — Abyei, southern Blue Nile State and the Nuba Mountains — which are claimed by both sides. Also remaining to be decided are details of a separate national administration would also be set up in partnership with the SPLA for the six-year interim period and power-sharing arrangements. The SPLA has been at war with Khartoum since 1983 and the conflict has claimed more than 1.5 million lives and displaced some four million people.