Government says Nuba cease-fire holding

A cease-fire agreement in the Nuba Mountains region of Southern Kordofan State, south-central Sudan, is holding, and could lead to a more comprehensive peace in the country, according to a Sudanese diplomat.

Muhammad Ahmad Dirdiery, charge d'affaires at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi, told a news conference on Thursday, that the Nuba Mountains cease-fire agreement between Khartoum and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was "holding very firmly", and that the government hoped the agreement would be the first step towards a lasting peace in the country.

"We really feel there is a greater fundamental shift towards peace in Sudan. We hope what started in Nuba is a start towards a comprehensive cease-fire throughout Sudan," Dirdiery said.

The agreement was due to be supervised by a Joint Military Commission, whose members are expected in Sudan by 5 March to set up an implementing committee, Dirdiery said.

The deal also provides for the establishment of an International Monitoring Unit comprising 10 to 15 military and civilian personnel from Western Europe and North America. Following the establishment of the implementing committee on 5 March, international monitors would be dispatched to oversee the cease-fire on the ground by 20 March, Dirdiery said. "We are very positive about the future of the agreement and its implementation."

Both the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A have announced the withdrawal of their forces from specific areas in the Nuba Mountains region, in accordance with the six-month cease-fire deal, signed following talks between government and SPLM/A-Nuba delegations in Burgenstock, Switzerland on 19 January.

Dirdiery said Khartoum was determined to keep the cease-fire in place, even after the lapse of the official six months covered by the agreement. "We are sure after six months hostilities will not have started. People need a longer period to return their lives back to normal. But this is a problem both parties will need to address," he said.

According to Dirdiery, some people of the Nuba Mountains will on Thursday stage a peaceful demonstration of cyclists crossing both SPLM/A-controlled and government-held territories "to indicate their willingness to see things change" in the region. "The people can now move freely within the region and they are willing to see the process continuing without interruption," he said.

The SPLM/A confirmed in a statement on 24 January that its units in the Nuba had been ordered to "observe and extend the current military stand-down in the area", effective from 12 noon (local time) on Tuesday 22 January.

The rebel movement claimed, however, that SPLA units had repelled government troops after they attacked rebel positions within the Nuba region. The SPLM/A spokesman, Samson Kwaje, said forces loyal to Khartoum had attacked an SPLA garrison at Tulushi on 23 January, the day after the cease-fire became effective, with the aim of capturing it.

Dirdiery denied the claims, and said SPLA forces had attacked government troops at Rofo in the Nuba region hours before the truce was to be implemented, but added that no attacks had occurred during the cease-fire period.

"For us, the war in Nuba Mountains is over. It was successfully finished in Switzerland. The Chief of Joint Staff of Sudan has clearly issued instructions in public, on radio and television, to all commanders to observe the cease-fire. I don't think any commander can disregard government orders and launch attacks," he said.

After the visit to Sudan in November of United States' peace envoy John Danforth, the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A had agreed to negotiate an internationally monitored cease-fire to cover the Nuba Mountains, and to the immediate dispatch of a relief and rehabilitation assessment mission to the region.

The results of a joint humanitarian assessment mission in the Nuba Mountains carried out by the Sudanese government's Humanitarian Aid Commission, the US Agency for International Development, and other aid agencies, is expected in early February.

Dirdiery also responded on Thursday to recent reports that the Sudanese government had signed a deal to buy a number of MiG-29 jet fighters from the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, saying that such a purchase would not compromise its commitment to the peace process. "I don't think there is any ban on Sudan stopping it from purchasing weapons it wants to buy," he said.