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North-South Talks in Sudan Fail to Break Gridlock

By Alan Boswell
11 September 2009

A new round of U.S.-mediated talks between North and South Sudan has ended in a stalemate, with no agreement reached. The two parties remain at odds over crucial details involving the upcoming national elections and Southern independence referendum.

The latest set of negotiations between the South's Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the North's National Congress Party have come to a close with no new headway reached. The talks are being mediated by the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration.

While two chief areas of dispute remain, this recent round of talks only focused on the impasse over the government's referendum bill. The bill is to finalize in law the exact details of the independence vote.

Both sides accuse the other of seeking to sabotage the 2005 peace agreement. The NCP contends SPLM has not been serious about its agreement to attempt to make national unity look attractive prior to the vote.

Yen Matthew, spokesman for the SPLM, alleges the North is purposefully stalling the implementation of the peace deal and attempting to thwart the South's agreed-upon referendum.

"We have not yet reached an agreement with the NCP because the NCP still insists in stiffening the process of the referendum, which is contrary to the fact that the referendum shall commence as something that is stipulated in the agreement and can not be hardened by the laws as claimed by the NCP," said Matthew.

The North's NCP asserts that the secession vote require a 75 percent threshold to pass, whereas the SPLM refuses to budge from its stance that the vote be decided by a simple majority vote.

The North and South also disagree on the exact constituency of the referendum vote. The North holds that Southerners living in the North will be eligible to participate, but the South rejects any eligibility outside Southern territory.

The second crucial rift that remains to be bridged is over the recent national census results, which the SPLM rejects as "rigged." The census figures are critical in determining regional powers in the upcoming elections scheduled for April 2010.

Matthew says he still remains optimistic that the two will peacefully resolve their differences.

"We believe the two talks are going to reach an agreement in the end very soon before the elections start," he said.

According to the SPLM spokesman, the talks will continue at a date to be decided in consultation with Mr. Gration.

When asked what possible steps his party might take if the talks completely collapse, Matthew refused to give any specifics.

"SPLM has always got strategies, a lot of plans - A and B and C. These plans remain un-promulgated until a proper time comes," he added. "We will wait until we see what happens but we believe there are always alternatives."

The secretary-general of SPLM has previously declared that the South has the right to unilaterally declare independence if the differences with the NCP on the referendum are not resolved.

U.S. envoy Gration is currently in the middle of a five day visit to Sudan, where he will now be heading to the western area of Darfur to meet with representatives of the ravaged region.

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