Sudan's former foes in crisis talks to rescue deal

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KHARTOUM, Oct 18 (Reuters) The two sides in Sudan's national coalition meet today to try to salvage their fragile peace deal after disenchanted former southern rebels walked out of the government.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir will meet First Vice-President Salva Kiir, chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), in Khartoum for the highest-level talks between the two sides since the SPLM suspension last week.

The SPLM's move followed months of stalemate on key elements of the landmark 2005 peace deal including redeployment of northern troops from southern oilfields, mapping the borders of the oil-rich Abyei region, demarcating the north-south border and constitutional violations such as hundreds of political prisoners being held in northern jails.

''We are looking for the implementation of the agreement and we hope the meeting between the president and the first vice-president will reach a conclusion to that effect,'' said Yasir Arman, SPLM deputy secretary-general.

Bashir approved a cabinet reshuffle after a three-month delay yesterday, one of the SPLM demands, but southern officials said it was not as Kiir wanted with two presidential advisers lacking.

They added that Bashir was also asked not to reshuffle the cabinet until after his meeting with Kiir, who wanted to discuss it and finalise it with him.

''Kiir owes it to south Sudanese to reject the reshuffle unless it's as he proposed,'' said an editorial in the Citizen, an English-language newspaper.

''It would set a wrong precedent. It would mean that the NCP (Bashir's National Congress Party) can violate any other protocols of the agreement and get away with it.'' STRAINED RELATIONS While both sides have insisted they do not want a return to war, relations have been strained by the move. Bashir met SPLM Vice-Chairman Riek Machar and a high-level team on Tuesday after making them wait two days in Khartoum.

Before the meeting, presidential security guards said Arman's name was not on the list and made the delegation move from four cars into two before allowing them to enter.

The SPLM and local media reported demonstrations throughout southern Sudanese towns in support of the SPLM move.

The international community has remained largely quiet and privately worried by the move, the biggest challenge to the 2005 accord which ended Africa's longest civil war.

The SPLM has given the NCP until Jan. 9, the third anniversary of the deal, to show progress on outstanding issues.

Officials say the reshuffle itself it not enough for the SPLM to return to its posts in the cabinet, where it accounts for more than a quarter of members.

''The (deal) is not about ministerial jobs. It is about addressing the root causes of the war. If we don't address the root causes of the war they will always come back,'' said Arman.

The SPLM's action has the support of many southerners.

''The walkout must continue until the NCP demonstrates that it is willing to move forward in one or two more points,'' said the independent daily Khartoum Monitor in an editorial, under the headline ''Bravo SPLM.'' Sudan's north-south conflict cost 2 million lives and more than 4 million were driven from their homes.

REUTERS SKB PM1545

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