22 Apr 2005
Article Views (non-unique): 197
By Tom Maliti
LEADERS of more than 100 southern Sudanese rebel groups, political factions and religious organisations signed yesterday a covenant binding them to unconditionally back a peace deal that ended two decades of war in Sudan.
However, officials gave conflicting reasons why pro-government militias did not attend the four-day meeting aimed at persuading other southern Sudan groups to honour the January 9 peace agreement between the main rebel force, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, and the government.
In the covenant, the leaders recognized that all sides in the 21-year conflict in southern Sudan had committed "abuses", and agreed to start an undefined "process of forgiving, reconciliation and mutual healing".
Officials of the Moi Africa Institute, which organised the meeting, said it was attended by about 110 representatives from southern rebel groups, political parties, churches and Muslim organisations, as well as non-governmental organizations.
The institute was set up by former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi in 2003 to help in peace negotiations.
Government and Sudan People's Liberation Movement officials said that pro-government militias were invited to attend, but gave conflicting reasons why they never showed up.
"Some of them informed us that the government denied them permission to come," said Pagan Amum Okiech, of the rebel group's leadership council.
Sudanese Aviation Minister Ali Tamin Fartak denied the government had stopped the militias from attending the Nairobi meeting, saying they wanted to have a separate meeting with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the SPLM.
"They say they are not political parties so they prefer to conduct direct talks with SPLA. They are ready to respond to any call from the chairman of the SPLA," Fartak said. "We cannot undermine an agreement which we have just signed after several years of armed conflict."
Separate from the covenant, participants of the southern Sudanese groups meeting resolved that the SPLA will be the army of southern Sudan and all armed groups in the region would hold a separate workshop to discuss disarmament and related issues, said Ajang Bior Duot of the Union of Sudan African Parties, who read the resolutions.
Participants also resolved to form a 40-member committee to draft a constitution for southern Sudan, as provided for in the January peace agreement, and another committee to keep track of progress on implementing the peace agreement and resolutions.
The 21-year war pitted the Arab Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum against rebels fighting for greater autonomy and a larger share of the country's wealth in the largely African animist and Christian south. More than 2 million people died, mainly from war-induced famine and disease, and at least twice as many fled their homes.
Southern Sudan's conflict was separate from one in the country's western Darfur region, which broke out more than two years ago and has since killed some 180 000 people, mainly from war-induced hunger and disease, according to UN estimates. - Nampa-AP