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Peace talks drift as Sudan strikes deal with rebels to revive irrigation scheme

Peace talks between Kharoum and the rebels ended without a peace deal [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 December, 2019

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Sudan's new government has agreed to revive a long-dormant irrigation system in the country's central farming region.

Sudan's new government agreed on Tuesday to revive a long-dormant irrigation system in the country's central farming region as the latest round of negotiations with rebel groups wrapped up in Juba.

Progress between Khartoum and the rebels came as separate peace talks, also underway in Juba, but over South Sudan's five-year civil war, ended without ground being made.

The respective mediations have been underway for two weeks in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan in 2011 but which remains closely tied to its larger neighbour to the north.

Sudan's new transitional government, brought to power after protesters toppled Omar al-Bashir, has been meeting with rebels who fought for years against their marginalisation by Khartoum under the ousted leader.

But on this occasion, they weren't able to deliver the lasting peace deal being sought by the warring parties.

However, Khartoum did agree to resuscitate the Gezira Scheme in central Sudan - one of the world's largest irrigated farming systems - that fell into disrepair following years of underinvestment.

The project could stimulate the agricultural economy in central Sudan, which has slipped into ruin from years of government neglect, rebel representatives said.

"The people of central Sudan suffered a lot. Now with achieving this, we've put the economy on the right track," said Tom Haju, from a coalition of nine rebel groups called the Sudan Revolutionary Front.

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Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy president of the Sudan Transitional Military Council, who lead the delegation in Juba, said the agreement was a step toward a lasting truce.

"Khartoum looks forward to reaching a comprehensive peace agreement," he said.

Dagalo returned to Sudan on Tuesday flanked by Riek Machar, a former South Sudan rebel leader, who lives in exile in Khartoum.

Machar was in Juba meeting President Salva Kiir, his former ally turned foe, to discuss a way forward for the country's stalled peace process.

The rivals signed a peace deal in September 2018, largely pausing the bloodshed that began five years earlier in the world's youngest country when Kiir and Machar fell out. 

But since then, the pair have missed two deadlines to form a power-sharing government, a central tenet of a peace deal that international observers fear is in danger of collapsing. 

They have until February to iron out key sticking points - namely how to unify their fighters under one army, and agree on the number and boundaries of states. 

Kiir's security adviser, Tutkew Gatluak, said the pair "agreed to continue" discussing how to overcome these hurdles.

The civil war in South Sudan has killed close to 400,000 people.

The talks will resume in January.



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