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Thursday, 7 May, 1998, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Referendum agreed at Sudan peace talks
SPLA at beginning of talks
SPLA's Nhial Deng Nhial, left, at the opening session of peace talks in Nairobi
The Sudanese government and southern rebels have agreed to hold a referendum on self-determination in the south in an effort to end 15 years of civil war.

The agreement was contained in a final communiqué issued in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, after three days of talks between representatives of the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

The communiqué said the referendum would be overseen by international observers, but that the two sides had failed to agree which regions to include in the vote.

The Kenyan Foreign Minister and chairman of the talks, Bonaya Godana, in his statement said that the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which had brokered the talks, welcomed the agreement.

Ceasefire not necessary

Sudan famine index
Aid agencies warn that hundreds of thousands are at risk.
However, he said, "on the question of state and religion... the parties have been unable to reach a common ground." But Mr. Godana said that both the rebels and the Khartoum government had "declared commitment to continue searching for an agreement" and agreed to a new round of talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa within three months.

Mr. Godana said that the government of Sudan had proposed a cease-fire to allow relief aid to flow, but the SPLA wanted a truce to be negotiated separately. Sudan offered to respect a cease-fire to enable delivery of relief food to starving people in southern Sudan, but the rebels insisted it was not necessary, Mr. Godana said.

Peace negotiations have been overshadowed by international concern over a looming famine in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan.

Hopes of averting famine

Fighting between rebels and government forces in the south, combined with a two-year drought, have provoked a famine which aid agencies warn has put between 350,000 and 700,000 people at risk - mainly in the Bahr el-Ghazal region.

On Monday, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced in Nairobi that both the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had agreed to allow unrestricted emergency food supplies to reach the region.

The Sudanese Government had previously restricted emergency airlifts in a bid to stop any food reaching the rebel forces.

Humanitarian organisations expressed their relief that restrictions will be lifted.

The World Food Programme's spokeswoman Michele Quintaglie said: "We hope to avert the famine ... but we have no guarantee."

Operation Lifeline Sudan, an umbrella group of aid agencies in the country, said on Tuesday that the lifting of the restrictions would allow 6,000 tonnes of food to be distributed monthly.

War has affected hundreds of thousands

The north of Sudan, populated mainly by Muslim Arabs, has been fighting black Christian or animist rebels in the south since at least 1983. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been affected by the conflict.

A drought last year has added to Sudan's problems.

See also:

21 Feb 99 | Analysis
Sudan: Background
01 May 98 | Africa
A history of famine in Africa
04 May 98 | Africa
Hopes of averting famine rise
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