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Sudan govt promises aid to restive eastern region

5/25/2005 8:39am

By Opheera McDoom

KASSALA, Sudan, May 24 (Reuters) - The Sudanese government promised aid to eastern tribes on Tuesday at the end of two days of acrimonious talks aimed at dousing the flames of a simmering conflict in a region key to the country's oil industry.

The government said it would give about 88 million dollars for development over three years and rebuild infrastructure in the region that contains Port Sudan, Finance Minister al-Zubeir Ahmed al-Hassan told delegates to the talks.

Sudan's main pipeline runs from oil producing areas in the centre of the country to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, making the region vital to the country's burgeoning energy industry.

Some delegates complained the government had failed to understand their grievances or address all their concerns.

"There needs to be a clearer plan, not just an exchange of views as we had here," said Salih Mandar, head of the workers union in the Red Sea state, after the talks.

"The east is a political problem not just one of development and they (the government) need to admit that," he said, adding he wanted more participation on development plans.

Analysts say eastern Sudan, which borders Eritrea, could be the vast country's next flashpoint and Khartoum is keen to nip any rebellion in the bud, not least after a 20-year conflict with southern rebels was settled in January.

Beja Congress rebels in the east complain their region is neglected by central government, a charge with an ominous ring -- rebels in the western region of Darfur began a bloody revolt three years ago because of a similar grievance.


Tempers frayed on the first day of the talks and boiled over on Tuesday with delegates shouting each other down over the choice of speaker.

Mona Ibriz, a businesswoman from Port Sudan, complained about the lack of participation by women, only two of whom were invited to speak despite a big delegation.

"We also want something to be done about removing land mines along the border laid during the war," she said. "And there should be something specific to health vaccinations and financial help for war-affected families."

But she said the frayed tempers were a sign of democracy at work in the wake of the end of the southern war and the arrival of former southern rebels in Khartoum to take government posts under the January peace deal.

"There was real freedom to express yourself, real democracy. This is the first time I'm seeing this in the east," she said.

Ahmed Eissawi Mahmoud from the eastern state of Gadaref called the conference a success because it addressed key issues.

"I now call on those who are holding arms to come back to Sudan and to have peaceful talks with the government. War only brings destruction," he said.

The conference asked neighbouring Eritrea to stop supporting rebels fighting Khartoum in both the east and the west of the country and to work towards peace in the interests of both states. Eritrea denies that is supports rebels in Sudan.

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