June 19, 2006

Khartoum, eastern rebels agree to cease hostilities

ASMARA (Reuters) - Sudan's government and eastern rebels
signed a pact to cease hostilities and agreed a framework for
future talks on Monday to end a long-simmering insurgency in
the remote but economically important region.

Long-delayed talks between the Khartoum government and the
eastern rebels began last week in neighboring Eritrea.

Eastern rebels, allied with other regional Sudanese rebel
groups, have controlled Hamesh Koreb, a small area on the
Eritrean-Sudan border for around a decade. The area contains
Sudan's main port.

A written translation of the declaration was not
immediately available, but would guide future negotiations,
Yemane Gebreab, head of Political Affairs at Eritrea's ruling
party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, said.

Speaking after the brief signing ceremony in the Eritrean
capital Asmara, Yemane described the talks as positive,
serious, and friendly.

"They signed a declaration of principles to guide
negotiations between the two sides as well as an agreement on
creating a conducive environment toward peace which includes a
cessation of hostilities as well as a military stand down," he
told Reuters.

"We will start discussions on the agenda for the
substantive issues, starting tomorrow."

Sudan's east, like other regions in Sudan, complains of
neglect by central government. The arid area has some of the
highest malnutrition rates in the country.

The low-level insurgency in eastern Sudan seems to have
escalated since January last year, when police opened fire on a
peaceful protest in Port Sudan, the country's main port,
killing and injuring dozens of residents.

Mutual suspicions had delayed the talks for at least five
months, with the Eastern Front -- including the Beja Congress
and Rashaida Free Lions -- insisting on Eritrean mediation.

Relations between Eritrea and Sudan have been fraught in
the past but have warmed since September when former southern
rebels, once aided by Asmara, joined the Khartoum government.

A separate conflict has killed tens of thousands of people
in the remote western region of Darfur.