Home | News    Thursday 20 November 2003

Sudanese opposition leader predicts final settlement will not come by the Dec. 31 target set by the United States

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By MAGGIE MICHAEL Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt, Nov 20, 2003 (AP) — The Sudanese government and its rebel opponents will not meet the U.S. target of concluding a peace accord by the end of the year, the leader of Sudan’s largest opposition party, former Prime Minister Sadiq el-Mahdi, said Thursday.

The government and the rebel Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army have been negotiating in Kenya to settle the 20-year civil war. Last month, US Secretary of State Colin Powell held talks with the two sides in Kenya and announced afterward that they had agreed to "conclude a comprehensive settlement no later than the end of December."

Speaking in Cairo, el-Mahdi said the date was "too soon."

"Instead I believe a peace agreement will be accomplished in the first half of the next year," el-Mahdi told members of Egypt’s Foreign Press Association.

El-Mahdi leads the Umma party, which traditionally scores highest in free elections in Sudan. He is the country’s last democratically elected prime minister, having been overthrown by President Omar el-Bashir in 1989.

El-Mahdi paid tribute to Washington’s role in encouraging the government and the rebels toward the interim agreement they signed last year and a further accord signed in September.

Referring to the many years of fruitless talks between the two sides, el-Mahdi said that before the United States got involved, "all other mediations were academic."

"The United States’ clout helped push the peace negotiations," el-Mahdi said.

He said the administration of former President Bill Clinton had failed to advance the peace talks because it dealt with the issues from "ideological bases."

Under President George W. Bush, "America reformed its policies ... listened to Sudanese intellectuals and politicians, and formed pragmatic ideas," he said.

El-Mahdi gave reporters a statement listing what he called "34 points of disagreement" that he believes the two delegations will have to overcome when they resume negotiations on Nov. 30.

He said he had a "third way" to resolve each dispute. As an example, he outlined the dispute over Khartoum, the capital city. The government insists it remain a part of Sudan where Islamic law prevails. The rebels, who hail from southern Sudan which is largely animist and Christian, insist Khartoum should be a secular city.

El-Mahdi said his compromise is that secular rule should prevail in a certain area of Khartoum that comprises the main buildings of government. This area would be "named the national capital."

He also proposed the creation of an Independent Institute of Human Rights, a neutral body, funded by government, that would monitor civil rights in Sudan.

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