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Talks at "historic crossroads"

The Sudanese government and southern rebels have reached an "historic crossroads" in crucial peace negotiations, a leading think-tank has said.

"The government has reached an historic fork in the road as it deliberates next steps," the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a new report released on Tuesday. "The rebel SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army], bedevilled by competing tendencies towards war and peace, faces a similar moment of truth," it added.

Sudanese government negotiators walked out of talks on 2 September after SPLA forces seized the strategic southern town of Torit, located some 100 km southeast of the Nile River port and key government garrison town of Juba.

In a memo to the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which is sponsoring the talks, the government delegation also claimed that new positions put forward by the SPLM/A since the second round of talks began in mid-August were "completely incompatible" with the Machakos Protocol - the framework deal agreed in July.

"Hardline tendencies that were dormant or hidden have been unleashed on both sides by the prospect of peace," ICG Africa Programme Director John Prendergast said in a statement. "The government and SPLA will have to overcome these forces if they are to reach a comprehensive final deal."

The first round of talks had resulted in a "breakthrough protocol" including agreement on the key issues of a self-determination referendum for southern Sudan, and the relationship between religion and the state, as well as a framework for resolving other outstanding issues, ICG said.

For any future peace talks to be successful, ICG argued, "it is crucial that mediators put forward proposals that genuinely give the long-term unity of north and south Sudan a chance".

"Khartoum will not sign or implement a deal that does not provide a reasonable prospect that the south will vote to keep the country together, so it is vital that the mediators put forward proposals that create conditions for unity," Prendergast said.

This would also mean providing southerners with satisfactory security arrangements, and provisions for the substantial redistribution of power and wealth, the report added.

Prior to resumption of negotiations on these issues, however, the parties should agree to cease "major offensive actions" for six months to allow talks to break the "dangerous battlefield dynamic."

[For full ICG report, 'Sudan's Best Chance for Peace: How not to lose it']

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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