General

Sudan Peace Talks With Rebels Begin in Juba

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Talks among the Sudanese government, the rebel SPLM-North faction and two smaller Sudanese rebel groups began Friday in Juba.

After a three-hour meeting, mediators, Khartoum officials and the SPLM-North faction announced an agenda for the talks. Sudan government spokesman Mohammed Hassan Alteishi said the parties agreed to discuss several issues.

"The parties have agreed on categorizing and sequencing the negotiation issues as follows: one, political issues; two, humanitarian issues; three, security arrangements. Second, the parties have agreed on the necessity to agree on declaration of principles," Alteishi told reporters at Juba's Pyramid Hotel.

SPLM-North spokesperson Ajak Mahmoud called the agenda for the talks "a great achievement."

"The two parties embarked in direct engagement this morning since 9 o'clock and recently we made a very important breakthrough," Mahmoud said.

The SPLM-North has been fighting Sudanese government forces in the Nuba Mountains for several years.

Tutkew Gatluak, the security adviser to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, is leading the talks. He said the agenda gives the parties a clear direction to follow during the negotiations.

"We thank God. We had a meeting with our brothers in SPLM-North and we have reached an agreement, and the first agreement we agreed on is on the humanitarian issue, security and political issue and all the issues that will make us reach a final peace deal," Gatluak said.

The optimism was a marked turnaround from Tuesday, when the SPLM-North faction said it was suspending the talks, accusing government forces of bombing villages in the Nuba Mountains and killing one person.

The government delegation denied playing a role in any attacks in the area and said the incident involved traders and cattle herders.

Separate talks, different rebels

On Thursday night, the government delegation held separate talks with Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) negotiators. Alteishi said the SRF and the government were expected to agree on an agenda soon.

"We walked through those issues. We haven't agreed yet for a whole agenda but we are nearly to reach that agreement," Alteishi told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

The South Sudan-sponsored talks in Juba are expected to last two months. Similar talks mediated by the African Union over the past 10 years failed to resolve the conflict between the rebels and the previous Sudanese government led by former President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted by military leaders this year after months of protests.

Source: Voice of America