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Southern Sudanese factions, minus militias, agree to support peace deal

4/22/2005 7:33am

NAIROBI (AFP) - Southern Sudan's fractious political factions agreed to support a landmark peace deal between Khartoum and the region's main former rebel group, but the absence of Khartoum-backed militia groups threw a cloud of uncertainty over the commitment.

In a raft of resolutions adopted at the end of a Kenya-hosted, three-day reconciliation conference for south Sudan, the sides "agreed to support and rally behind the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," officials said.

They also agreed "to reconcile and promote the unity" of the impoverished people of southern Sudan as well as keep the government-controlled town of Juba as the capital during the six-year transitional period, they said.

And, they agreed to form a 40-person commission to draft a constitution for the south which, under the terms of the January peace deal between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), will be autonomous for six years before holding a referendum on secession from the north.

Despite the positive developments, the meeting's conclusions were overshadowed by the absence of the Khartoum-backed militias, which the SPLM/A alleged had boycotted the conference on orders from the Sudanese government.

Participants instructed the SPLM/A to convene an urgent meeting with militia leaders, who often switched sides between Khartoum and the rebels during the 21-year war and have been at odds with SPLM/A leader John Garang.

The peace agreement, which foreign donors this month pledged billions of dollars to support, includes a formula for how the north and south will share both Sudan's substantial oil revenue and power but did not cover the militias or address southern Sudan's internal disputes.

The meeting, organized by former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi and attended by Garang, his political rivals in the south and Sudanese Second Vice President Moses Machar, was called in a bid to deal with those matters.

But neither issue was dealt with in the resolutions although the factions did agree that the south should operate as a pluralistic political entity during its six years of autonomy, officials said.

They agreed to implement a multi-party democracy in southern Sudan, where the war, Africa's longest-running conflict, claimed at least 1.5 million people and displaced more than four million others, according to Cirino Hiteng, a top SPLM/A official.

In addition, they decided that once the southern Sudanese government begins functioning in August, it would seek the release and compensation for people who were allegedly abducted to the north during the conflict, he said.

"We shall also seek compensation from the (Khartoum) government and companies that signed the contracts for people displaced from oil fields," he Hiteng said.

Tens of thousands of villagers were displaced from oil fields in Sudan's Upper Nile state -- most of which is currently controlled by the militia groups.

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