Peace talks between the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese government failed to start as planned on 15 January in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, due to the absence of the delegation from Khartoum. Sudan’s delegation leader Ali Abdelrehman Nimeri told the meeting that his delegation was not in Nairobi, because they had not received an invitation to attend.

The special session of peace talks between the Sudan government and the SPLA
was due to discuss three disputed areas in the centre of Sudan: Southern Blue Nile, Abyei and the Nuba Mountains "Our delegation is ready to make arrangements to fly to Nairobi the minute it receives a notification of the meeting," Nimeri said in a statement read to the session, officially opened by new Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka.

But the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) special
mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo disagreed, "IGAD sent the invitation twice, but they still say that they have never received it. It means we will have to send the invitation again,". "They got the invitation, but they did not want to come because IGAD had included the Abyei, Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) and Southern Blue Nile dispute in the agenda for the next round of talks," commented one official. The SPLA also disagreed that Khartoum did not receive the invitations.

"They were sent letters of invitation on December 17 and 23 detailing the agenda of the meetings and the programme of action, but they said they have never received any of them," SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje said. "The SPLA is here with its full delegation, observers from Britain, America, Italy, Norway and also an UN representative. They cannot say that they did not get the invitation yet the IGAD mediators sent them."  He pointed out. Mediators and SPLA representatives spent the morning at the talks venue waiting to see if a government delegation would come.

Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya, Mohammed Dideri arrived just before the scheduled opening of the meeting at 1200 GMT to read a statement. "The very fact that the question of the three areas is now being projected as the main subject of negotiations and also the very fact this meeting is being held despite repeated representations from the government not to hold it are proof enough that the atmosphere of trust is seriously deteriorating," the statement said. "This has resulted in putting the government in an unfortunate and rather awkward situation as if it were in defiance of the other parties." The government said it wanted an immediate resumption of the main talks
dealing with power and wealth sharing, and the formation of a new government after a comprehensive peace was signed.

Kwaje explained that the delegations were supposed to go back to Machakos to talk about power- and wealth-sharing and security arrangements, but it would
be hard to discuss them if the issue of the three regions is not resolved. "You cannot resolve the problem in Sudan comprehensively unless you address these three areas. The SPLA is willing to go on with the talks anywhere, because we are interested in peace," Kwaje said. "They just want to jump out of the peace process,"

Khartoum’s chief delegate Nimeri insisted that his government was against convening a meeting on the three areas until after the main IGAD talks on southern Sudan peace were finalised and had pleaded with the mediators to hold Wednesday’s meeting.
"If I were to put my statement in a nutshell, it would be to call for an immediately resumption of the IGAD talks on southern Sudan, and our delegation is ready to fly to Nairobi the minute it receives a 
notification for the meeting," Nimeri said.

International mediators are now trying to reschedule the planned meeting, but it will be difficult to start detailed negotiations on sharing wealth and resources until the boundaries of the proposed new entities are established – the last thing that Khartoum is prepared to negotiate.

Arab Ministers Oppose Partition of Sudan

Arab ministers meeting in Khartoum expressed strong opposition to any partition of Sudan as part of the peace settlement currently being negotiated with the rebels and called on the United States to play a neutral role in the peace process. The position was stressed in a 14 January communiqué issued at the end of a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the nine countries of the Arab League’s committee of support for Sudan.

The statement said "Arab countries support the territorial unity of Sudan and oppose any attempt to carve it up." It expressed "support for efforts aimed at establishing overall peace and national understanding among all the sons of Sudan and of implementing a ceasefire throughout the country." It called on "all countries, particularly the United States, and organizations involved in the peace process in Sudan to play a positive, neutral and transparent role to help achieve peace."

The communiqué also thanked Arab nations that had contributed to the fund for the reconstruction of Sudan – which is believed to stand at almost two billion dollars - and called on other members of the Arab League to also contribute to ensure the continued unity of the country. Chairing the meeting, Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, appealed to "all political forces in Sudan, in the north and in the south, to stop the war and establish peace."

Peter Moszynski