Sudan, eastern rebels agree to truce


Monday, June 19, 2006 Posted: 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)

ASMARA, Eritrea (Reuters) -- Sudan's government and eastern rebels signed a pact to cease hostilities and agreed a framework for future talks on Monday to end a long-simmering insurgency in the remote but economically important region.

Long-delayed talks between the Khartoum government and the eastern rebels began last week in neighboring Eritrea.

Eastern rebels, allied with other regional Sudanese rebel groups, have controlled Hamesh Koreb, a small area on the Eritrean-Sudan border for around a decade. The area contains Sudan's main port.

A written translation of the declaration was not immediately available, but would guide future negotiations, said Yemane Gebreab, head of political affairs at Eritrea's ruling party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice.

Speaking after the brief signing ceremony in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, Yemane described the talks as positive, serious and friendly.

"They signed a declaration of principles to guide negotiations between the two sides as well as an agreement on creating a conducive environment toward peace, which includes a cessation of hostilities as well as a military stand down," he told Reuters.

"We will start discussions on the agenda for the substantive issues, starting tomorrow."

Sudan's east, like other regions in Sudan, complains of neglect by central government. The arid area has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the country.

The low-level insurgency in eastern Sudan seems to have escalated since January last year, when police opened fire on a peaceful protest in Port Sudan, the country's main port, killing and injuring dozens of residents.

Mutual suspicions had delayed the talks for at least five months, with the Eastern Front -- including the Beja Congress and Rashaida Free Lions -- insisting on Eritrean mediation.

Relations between Eritrea and Sudan have been fraught in the past but have warmed since September when former southern rebels, once aided by Asmara, joined the Khartoum government.

A separate conflict has killed tens of thousands of people in the remote western region of Darfur.