Page last updated at 16:08 GMT, Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sudanese leaders locked in crisis talks

By James Copnall
BBC News, Khartoum

Sudanese demonstrators demanding electoral reforms, ahead of next year's crucial national elections, in the capital Khartoum on 7 December
Four major areas of disagreement remain between the sides

The leaders of Sudan and of its semi-autonomous southern region are having crucial talks in Khartoum.

It is rare for Sudan's most important politicians to meet, but President Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir have been locked in crisis talks since Thursday.

The two decade-long war between North and South ended in 2005, but the peace process is looking increasingly shaky.

In 2011 the South will vote in a referendum on possible independence and elections are due this April.

The two leaders fought each other during the civil war and have been uneasy partners since a peace deal was signed in 2005.

The direct head-to-head talks reflect a growing worry in Sudan about the state of the peace process.

Southern leaders were arrested on Monday, when they attempted to march on parliament.

The police had declared the demonstration illegal.

Threat of protests

The talks are focusing on the remaining issues dividing the sides.

According to Mr Kiir's party, the former Southern rebels of the SPLM, there are four main topics.

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Most important is the referendum law, essentially the terms under which the South will be able to vote for or against independence in just over a year.

Agreement over a referendum for one small region, and popular consultations for two others, also needs to be reached.

Finally, the sides are split over a number of laws designed to ensure free and fair elections in April, in particular the law on the role of national security, a controversial body, is proving tricky to agree on.

The SPLM, along with several Northern opposition parties, have said they will take to the streets again if a solution is not found.

In the meantime Mr Bashir and Mr Kiir continue their negotiations.

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