Addis Ababa — Thabo Mbeki, the chair of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), called on Sudan's warring parties to strike a peace deal ending the two-and-half-year conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as talks got under way on Thursday.
Speaking at the opening session in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Mbeki exhorted the two parties to reach a durable peace agreement based on the 28 June 2011 framework agreement, which provides for the establishment of a political partnership between the two sides to settle the conflict in the Two Areas and restore democracy in Sudan.
"We will stay in Addis Ababa until un agreement is reached. I will borrow the keys from the management of this hotel to lock the doors so nobody will leave until an agreement is reached", the chief mediator said.
Flanked by the UN special envoy for Sudans, Haile Menkerios, the chief mediator underlined that it is in the interests of the Sudanese people, as well as the regional and international community, that "these negotiations produce a kind of results that is expected".
In their speeches at the opening session, (see the attached documents) the Sudanese government and chief negotiators from the rebel Sudan People's LIberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), Ibrahim Gandour and Yasir Arman, reiterated their commitment to the peace process, as well as the decisions of the AU Peace and Security Council and UN resolution 2046 (2012) which refers to the 28 June framework agreement.
However, while Gandour insisted on the regional character of the process, pointing out that the purpose of the AUHIP-brokered talks is to settle the conflict in South Korodana and Blue Nile states, Arman strenuously defended their calls for a holistic approach to the peace process, involving all rebel groups and an inclusive constitutional conference.
The head of the government negotiating team referred to the address of Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir on 27 January, where the latter called for a national dialogue and reiterated his commitment to end war and achieve peace among other four priorities, including public freedom, the constitution, elections, economy, poverty alleviation and discussions on Sudanese identity.
"We are here today to negotiate on the basis of the three African Union Peace and Security Council's resolutions in 2012 and 2013 along with the UNSC resolution (2046), re-emphasising that the negotiations will only be confined to the three issues of the two areas, security, political and humanitarian", Gandour said.
The presidential aid on the other hand reaffirmed Khartoum's commitment to the tripartite humanitarian agreement signed on the 5 August 2012 to open humanitarian corridors for aid agencies to reach civilians in rebel-controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
However, the two parties failed to implement this agreement after failing to agree on the role of the Sudanese government's humanitarian body, which demanded to supervise the whole operation.
The SPLM-N says UN peacekeepers in Abyei should transport humanitarian aid to rebel areas due to suspicions that government security agencies are infiltrating the humanitarian commission.
SPLM-N CALLS FOR ONE FORUM
In his statement, Arman called for the implementation of the 28 June agreement "which will lead to a national constitutional process and a transitional government that carries the support of the massive majority of political parties and civil societies in the opposition and in the government".
The SPLM-N secretary-general supported a comprehensive cessation of hostilities to stop war in the Two Areas and Darfur region.
He has called on the different existing forums for peace in Sudan unite, saying that continued war in the peripheral regions threatens the unity of the country, a reference to the secession of South Sudan.
"We call upon the Sudan government to accept one forum to end the war with the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and we believe that president Thabo Mbeki, the AUHIP and Mohamed Ibn Chambas, joint AU-UN special representative for Darfur, head of UNAMID and joint chief mediator, can work as one team to facilitate this new forum with the support of the African and international communities", he said.
According to unconfirmed reports circulating in Addis Ababa, the mediation team has proposed the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the two warring parties.
Meanwhile, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Ali Al-Za'tari, on Thursday welcomed the renewed direct talks between the government and the SPLM-N, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities allowing humanitarian teams to provide much needed support in the Two Areas.
Al-Za'tari has urged both parties to ensure that the welfare of civilians remains an absolute priority during talks, saying they are ready to deliver humanitarian aid once a truce is signed.
"Once agreement for a viable cessation of hostilities has been reached, the United Nations in Sudan stands ready to provide such assistance without delay, and once peace is established full development efforts should be started immediately", he said.