- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

From combined dispatches
Sudanese government negotiators headed home from peace talks in neighboring Kenya this week, having suspended negotiations after rebels seized a strategic southern town. Less than two months ago, the talks had led to a breakthrough agreement providing for a referendum on a peaceful secession to follow six years of limited self-rule for the south.
Rebel delegates also left the talks in Machakos, about 50 miles from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, after Khartoum's announcement Monday that it would not resume negotiations until it was convinced the rebels were serious about ending the 19-year civil war.
The latest round of negotiations which began in mid-August and had been due to end in mid-September was intended to build on an outline agreement reached in July for a cease-fire and final accord. Analysts had viewed the talks as the best chance yet of ending Africa's longest-running civil war, which has claimed nearly 2 million lives.
The Sudanese government said it would put the country on a war footing after the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) captured the garrison town of Torit on Sunday. It had been in the hands of the government since 1988. Both sides have accused each other of initiating military strikes during the talks.
The rebels based in southern Sudan, which is largely animist with a small percentage of Christians and Muslims, have been fighting since 1983 for more autonomy from the Muslim-dominated north.
Authorities in Khartoum barred two independent newspapers from being distributed yesterday after they criticized the government's decision to pull out of the peace talks.
Nhial Bol, managing editor of the English-language Khartoum Monitor, said authorities confiscated all copies of his newspaper from the printing presses late Tuesday night.
The paper had carried a public speech delivered earlier that day by opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi criticizing the government decision, Mr. Bol said.
Al-Haj Warraq, general manager of the Arabic-language Al-Horiyah daily in Khartoum, said his newspaper also was barred from distribution after it said that before the SPLA offensive, which prompted the government to pull out of the talks, no cease-fire had been concluded.
Sudanese President Omar Bashir told his negotiators to break off talks with the SPLA and ordered his army to retaliate after the rebels captured Torit. The SPLA previously had said that a cease-fire would be the last item to be discussed at the second round of talks in Machakos, which began Aug. 12.
As the talks entered their second phase, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) predicted that ultimate agreement would be "hard to reach on the detailed issues now on the table."
"As so often, the devil is lurking in the details, and his appearance here seems guaranteed when either side doesn't like the direction the talks are headed," said Gareth Evans, the ICG president, during a visit to Kenya at that time.
The group noted that the first phase of talks between Khartoum and the SPLA a month earlier produced the Machakos Protocol, committing both sides to a referendum on unity or secession for southern Sudan after a six-year transition period. But it noted that other issues still to be addressed such as the definition of the south, power sharing, wealth sharing and security arrangements still divided the two sides.
John Prendergast, co-director of the ICG Africa program, also warned in August: "The protocol's agreement on the relationship between state and religion is ambiguous, has been interpreted in different ways by the two parties, and has angered a number of important northern and southern constituencies. The issue will remain a live one until an agreement is reached on a constitution for the central government that is neutral on religion."
"The process is also not sufficiently inclusive," Mr. Prendergast said. "More than just north-versus-south issues are involved, and their resolution requires the participation of a wider set of Sudanese parties."
In another development this week, Sudanese officials denied press reports saying that the al Qaeda network and the Taliban militia had sent several shipments of gold to Sudan in recent weeks, and Iran denied serving as a conduit.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post cited European, Pakistani and U.S. investigators as saying the gold was moved by boat from Pakistan to either Iran or the United Arab Emirates, and then by chartered aircraft to Khartoum.
It said Sudan probably had been chosen because terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who lived there from 1991 to 1996, and members of his network retain business contacts in the northeast African nation.
"It is a lie. Sudan is fighting terrorism, and it has no links with al Qaeda or the Taliban or any other elements with connections to them," said Sudanese Internal Affairs Minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein, quoted yesterday in the independent Al-Sahafi Al-Douli newspaper.
"This report is absolutely baseless," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Chul Deng was quoted by the independent Al Ayam daily as saying.
"There are no al Qaeda investments [in Sudan], and the organization does not and will never exist in Sudan," Mr. Deng said. "We are against terrorism and any terrorist-related act, which is against our faith and our ethics."
Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh also rejected the report, telling a news conference: "There have always been claims. Some of the American press, taking special stances in line with Israel's interests, have fanned the fire."
The Bush administration blames al Qaeda, sheltered by the now-deposed Taliban regime in Afghanistan, for being behind the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
President Bush has branded Iran, North Korea and Iraq an "axis of evil" suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism. Iran denies the charge.
In Karachi, Pakistan's coast guard and Interior Ministry also dismissed the report of gold shipments from that port city in recent weeks.
Coast guard Director-General Pervez Akhter told Reuters news agency that smuggling gold by sea in the July-August monsoon period would be difficult, given "high tides and rough seas."
"And we are also vigilant, especially after September 11. I am sure nothing of the sort has happened."
The United States has mounted a big military campaign in Afghanistan to track down bin Laden and has frozen millions of dollars of assets connected to him and his associates.
The report of gold shipments was not clear about how much of the precious metal had been moved, but U.S. and European officials said the quantity was significant, and there was an indication that members of al Qaeda and the Taliban still had access to large financial reserves.
On the breakdown of the Sudanese negotiations, the United States said it was "deeply disappointed" by Khartoum's decision to suspend its participation in the talks with the SPLA, although it was optimistic that negotiations would continue "sooner rather than later."
"We always knew there were going to be bumps in the road. We have hit a bump," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner told reporters.
"I still think there is enough of a commitment from both parties for talks to make real progress," he said in Nairobi, where he was on a stopover.
The United States participated during the past year in the international attempts to broker an end to the war in oil-producing Sudan Africa's largest country. Besides the nongovernmental ICG, the peace talks were being brokered by envoys from Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia, plus a group of observer nations comprising the United States, Britain, Norway and Italy.
Meanwhile, Egypt had voiced concern about any resolution of the hostilities in Sudan that envisioned independence for the south. Its worries included potential claims on the headwaters of the Nile River by an emerging new state, as well as political problems from a more hard-line Islamic government in the north.
However, mediators at the talks in Machakos said that both sides had made major strides during this summer's negotiations and that the peace process was far from over.
"They have never gone this far before," said Kenya's Sudan envoy, Lazaro Sumbeiywo. "That is why I am optimistic. I would say the chances of success are 75 percent."

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