August 7, 2006

East Sudan peace talks begin, long road ahead

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A second round of east Sudan peace
talks opened late on Monday in what promises to be a long road
to resolving a lingering low-level revolt in the economically
important region of the country.

With peace deals already under its belt in the west and
south, Khartoum's ruling National Congress Party is in a strong
position to negotiate with the now isolated and weakest of its
regional rebel opponent groups -- the Eastern Front.

"Tonight we have a short opening session," said Amna Dirar,
the Secretary-General of the main eastern political party, the
Beja Congress, part of the Eastern Front coalition.

"Tomorrow we will discuss the agenda for wealth-sharing,"
she told Reuters from the Eritrean capital Asmara. "I think it
will take some time -- there are many main issues that we still
haven't discussed."

The east has Sudan's largest gold mine and its main port
where its oil pipelines take exports to the world market. But
despite its rich resources it remains one of the country's
poorest regions.

During about a decade of low-scale conflict, eastern rebels
have allied themselves with former southern rebels and those
from Sudan's western Darfur region.

But after some of those insurgents signed peace deals to
join the central government the eastern rebels have found
themselves in a weaker negotiating position.

This year they also lost control of the Hamesh Koreb area
on the Eritrean border where, along with southern rebels, they
had based their forces.

Under a 2005 north-south deal, the northern army took over
the area earlier this year. U.N. peacekeepers monitoring that
transition withdrew last week.

Dirar said Eritrean military observers had moved in after
the U.N. withdrawal to the border town of Kassala to monitor
the security situation but she could not confirm they were
still present in the area.

In June, Sudan's government and the eastern rebels signed a
pact to cease hostilities and agreed a framework for future

This second round of eastern talks will discuss wealth and
power sharing and security arrangements.