Leaders of Sudan, Eritrea meet for rare summit

The presidents of Sudan and Eritrea met on Monday for the first time in five years, setting the stage for landmark peace talks aimed at ending the simmering civil conflict in eastern Sudan.

Eritrean President Assaias Afeworki was welcomed by his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Beshir, and the two were expected to hold extensive talks at the Presidency in Khartoum, official sources said.

Topping the agenda will be the latest efforts to bring an end to the rebellion by Asmara-backed movements in eastern Sudan.

Talks in Asmara between the Khartoum government and the rebel Eastern Front were due to start on Tuesday but have been postponed to Friday, pending the outcome of the Sudan-Eritrea summit, a rebel leader said.

“President Afeworki is paying the visit to Khartoum mainly to discuss the question of east Sudan and the related negotiations his country will sponsor, and it was decided that the negotiations be postponed until Friday to see what will emerge from Afeworki’s talks with Beshir,” said Mahmud Ghandur, from the Eastern Front’s Beja Congress faction.

The Khartoum delegation to Friday’s talks will be headed by senior presidential adviser and former foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail, and will include Local Government Minister Abdel Basit Sabdarat and former southern rebel leaders.

Ghandur said the Eastern Front is “optimistic on the success of the negotiations, if the government shows sincerity in reaching a settlement to the conflict”.

Several Libyan-sponsored initiatives failed to end the sporadic fighting that has plagued Sudan’s eastern states, where the rebels hold a strip of territory along the Eritrean border.

Created last year by the region’s largest ethnic group, the Beja, and Rashidiya Arabs, the Eastern Front has similar aims to its counterparts in Darfur—greater autonomy and control over the area’s resources.

The rebel Justice and Equality Movement, active in Darfur, has also emerged as a key player in eastern Sudan. It demands a seat at the Presidency as part of any peace settlement, but has not been invited to the Asmara talks.

Sudan says the latest push to defuse the crisis in the east is part of an attempt to pacify the whole of Africa’s largest country, by building on peace agreements reached recently with other rebels.

A peace accord was signed in January last year to end a 21-year-old north-south civil war, and efforts are still under way to stabilise the western region of Darfur after rebels there signed a deal with Khartoum last month.

The meeting between Beshir and Afeworki also consecrates the thaw in bilateral relations, strained in recent years by mutual accusations of support for each other’s opposition groups.

The two presidents last met at a summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development in Khartoum in 2001.

Sudan and Eritrea recently upgraded their diplomatic relations to ambassador level. Beshir has already received the credentials of the new Eritrean ambassador, and is due to appoint his counterpart in Asmara soon.

Meanwhile, Ismail and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, who met in Cairo on Sunday, left on Monday on an unscheduled one-day visit to Tripoli for talks with Libyan officials on issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, an Arab League official said.—Sapa-AFP

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