Armed Factions Unite for Peace

Khartoum- Sudan (PANA) -- Several armed factions and tribal militias in Southern Sudan have agreed to unite and push forward a common agenda for establishing peace.
United under the umbrella Southern Sudan Defence Force (SSDF), the factions say their aim is to get the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement implemented to the letter.
Six rebel groups signed the deal with the Khartoum government after defecting from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the armed wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) of John Garang.
According to reports from the Southern Sudan capital, Juba, groups forming the SSDF have elected former rebel leader Major General Paulino Matteb their commander-in-chief.
"The unification of these forces is an important step for the unification of Southerners," former Upper Nile state governor Daniel Kout Mathew told a political meeting in Juba.
Mathew and former Sudanese vice president Joseph Lagu, both resident in London, flew to Juba as part of their fresh approach to resolving the 18-year armed conflict in Southern Sudan.
Lagu and Mathew say it is high time Southern Sudanese united and convince the government and the SPLA of the need for a quick ending of the war.
The two veteran politicians met President Omar el Bashir and his aides in Khartoum before flying to Juba, the base of the coordination council of Southern Sudan (the regional government).
During a meeting Sunday with members of the council, Lagu said the sole objective of their mission was to achieve peace in the country.
"The aim of our visit to our homeland is to bridge the gap between the belligerents and achieve peace in the country," Lagu said.
Lagu has urged the Sudanese government and the SPLA to agree an immediate cease-fire and start "serious dialogue to resolve the conflict.
" He said the Southerners should preserve their culture as a way of maintaining their identity.
"Whether the South secedes or stays in a united Sudan, we as Southerners should always preserve our culture and identity," Lagu asserted.
The 1997 peace accord provided for a cease-fire between government troops and rebel groups that signed the deal.
It also called for the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged South Sudan.
A free referendum would be organised for Southerners to choose either to stay within a federal Sudan or secede.
A date for the referendum would be fixed upon consultation among the signatories.
The head of the regional government, Brigadier General Galwak Deng has lamented the fact that the re-united factions had to fight each other on some occasions delaying implementation of the peace agreement.
Describing formation of the SSDF as "a harbinger of peace in the South," Deng said: "Discord among our forces had harmed the agreement a great deal and hindered its implementation.
All this delay was because we - as Southerners - were not united".
Deng said the SSDF is now a regular force which should assist the national army in defending the population and fostering security.

28 may 2001 17:53:00

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