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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

29 September 2003

Recent peace talks in Naivasha, the Sudan, had been a major breakthrough for the people of the country and for regional stabilization in that part of the world, Ambassador Tom Eric Vraalsen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Needs for the Sudan, told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing today.

On his recently completed mission to the Sudan and Kenya, he said he had visited the Dafur region and Khartoum and had travelled to Unity and Blue Nile states. He had also visited Lokichoggio, Nairobi and Naivasha, where he had met with the First Vice-President Ali Osman Tahar and Dr. John Garang, the Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

This was the first time that the two Principals, Ali Osman Taha, the First Vice-President of the Sudan and Dr. John Garang, leader of the SPLM had met in over 20 years, he said. They had reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process and had made it clear that they would stay engaged for as long as it took to bring the talks to a successful conclusion –- a comprehensive peace agreement in the Sudan.

The country had suffered a civil war since 1983, he continued, and it had been at war for 40 of the 50 or more years of its existence. More than 2 million people had been killed during that time, whether by military activity, displacement, or natural disasters. Furthermore, at over 4 million, the Sudan had the largest number of internally displaced people in the world.

On leaving Naivasha, he said he was more confident than ever that a peace agreement would emerge. Although there were still many issues to be discussed, such as security agreements, power-sharing and the sharing of the wealth of the country, he was confident that it could be done, and that it would be done.

Both sides had expressed the wish for a broadly engaged role by the United Nations in the implementation of the forthcoming peace agreement, he said. The top priority would be to prepare a monitoring mission to be ready for the time that the peace agreement was signed. It would also be important to prepare for the return of refugees from the surrounding countries, as well as for the return of internally displaced people to their homes.

The two principals had left Naivasha on Saturday, he said. On Monday, three working groups would start negotiations on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and the contested areas. They would do so between 6 and 14 October, until the two principals returned to discuss the remaining unsolved problems. Due to a break for Ramadan, however, a comprehensive agreement would probably not be signed until the end of the year.

Asked what was responsible for the recent breakthrough after so many years of war, he said that credit should be given to the two parties sitting at the negotiating table. This was not something that had been imposed from the outside; it had a Sudanese label on it. The credit should go to the Government and to the SPLM and its leadership.

Responding to a question about the nature of the future Government, given the divisions between the Muslims in the North and the Christians in the South, he said it was being worked out by the negotiators under the heading of power-sharing. Much had been done already to reach agreement on the composition of a National Assembly.

Asked whether the Government would sit in Khartoum, he said that was likely.

Replying to a question about child soldiers, he said the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had been involved in this matter for some time. It had been demobilizing child soldiers, sending them to school, and sending them back to their homes. The problem of child soldiers was high on the agenda.

A journalist asked about the role of the United Nation in the Sudan peace process. Mr. Vraalsen replied that the United Nations was already doing some preliminary planning. The country team office in Khartoum had been restructured and was now ready to act on the day of ceasefire. There was also a mechanism called the Sudan Transitional Assistance Funding Facility which was ready to receive whatever contributions the donor community could produce. Those funds would be used for quick start programmes that would primarily focus on capacity-building.

There was a further initiative directed at the southern Sudan, he continued, which would educate and train 100 southern Sudanese so as to prepare them for the set up and management of a regional office in Juba. Additionally, in the near future, the Security Council would come up with a presidential statement, which would approve planning activities on the part of the Secretary-General.

Asked about the role of Egypt in the peace agreement, he replied that although it had not been an observer at the talks, Egypt had been constructive in supporting the ongoing talks, encouraging statements, and congratulating the parties on their major breakthrough, as had many other countries.

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