Famine in Sudan and Ethiopia Turns on Peace Talks

ESCALATING conflicts in the Horn of Africa threaten the lives of several million people in war zones who urgently need food relief. Peace talks between the government and rebels in Sudan collapsed Tuesday with no plans to meet again. But the Ethiopian procedural talks a week earlier ended successfully with the decision by both sides to enter peace talks, probably early next year.

Both African and Western analysts see the need for greater Western and Soviet help in ending the conflicts, as well as in providing more emergency food.

In Ethiopia, rebels from the Tigr'e province have advanced far south of their home area, to within about 100 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa.

About 4 million people in Ethiopia's war-torn north need emergency food because of a drought as severe as that of 1984-5, when lack of early relief led to a major famine and many deaths.

United Nations officials say they are concerned that this time international aid is arriving too slowly to prevent another famine.

Fighting in Sudan has flared up again in recent weeks. The start of the dry season enables government military trucks to push deeper into rebel territory in the south. In southern Sudan, several hundred thousand people require emergency food, the UN says.

But in the face of the renewed fighting, the government of Sudan has temporarily stopped all flights carrying food aid. The government says it plans to meet donors later this month to discuss renewing flights.

Sudanese rebels accuse the government of playing politics with food, using the threat of delayed delivery to discourage rebel advances.

At the peace talks early this month in Nairobi for both Ethiopia and Sudan, no cease-fire agreements were reached. Nor were agreements made to allow food aid to pass safely through conflict areas.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who helped negotiate the two separate peace talks, underlined the human cost of the Sudanese war: ``More people perished as a result of the conflict than all other wars [in the world last year] combined. Perhaps a quarter of a million people died; some directly from bullets, bombs, mines and shells. But the tragedy of it is many more died from starvation and disease, the indirect result of war.''

Both government officials and leaders of the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) agreed the ``hot potato,'' as one Sudanese official put it, was what to do about current Muslim laws that subject Muslims and minority Christians to punishments such as amputation.

Though such punishments are not now carried out by the military government of Gen. Omar al-Bashir, trials and imprisonments under Islamic laws continue.

Another Sudanese official said privately that leaders could never set aside laws seen as laws of God or Allah.

A top aide to SPLA leader Col. John Garang, said the SPLA (which is mostly non-Muslim) could not agree to a pact that maintains such laws.

According to Lam Akol, the SPLA delegation leader in Nairobi, more fighting lies ahead. Bashir has promised to win back rebel-held territory in a war which neutral analysts, as well as Commander Akol, consider militarily unwinable by either side.

When both sides in the Ethiopian conflict meet again, the key question will be what to do about Eritrea, the northernmost province of Ethiopia.

The rebel Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) seeks independence. The Soviet-backed Ethiopian government says it will never agree to Eritrea's independence. But EPLF officials here for the talks, repeated their position privately that they would accept less than independence - autonomy for ex home area, to within about 100 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa.

About 4 million people in Ethiopia's war-torn north need emergency food because of a drought as severe as that of 1984-5, when lack of early relief led to a major famine and many deaths.

United Nations officials say they are concerned that this time international aid is arriving too slowly to prevent another famine.

Fighting in Sudan has flared up again in recent weeks. The start of the dry season enables government military trucks to push deeper into rebel territory in the south. In southern Sudan, several hundred thousand people require emergency food, the UN says.

But in the face of the renewed fighting, the government of Sudan has temporarily stopped all flights carrying food aid. The government says it plans to meet donors later this month to discuss renewing flights.

Sudanese rebels accuse the government of playing politics with food, using the threat of delayed delivery to discourage rebel advances.

At the peace talks early this month in Nairobi for both Ethiopia and Sudan, no cease-fire agreements were reached. Nor were agreements made to allow food aid to pass safely through conflict areas.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who helped negotiate the two separate peace talks, underlined the human cost of the Sudanese war: ``More people perished as a result of the conflict than all other wars [in the world last year] combined. Perhaps a quarter of a million people died; some directly from bullets, bombs, mines and shells. But the tragedy of it is many more died from starvation and disease, the indirect result of war.''

Both government officials and leaders of the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) agreed the ``hot potato,'' as one Sudanese official put it, was what to do about current Muslim laws that subject Muslims and minority Christians to punishments such as amputation.

Though such punishments are not now carried out by the military government of Gen. Omar al-Bashir, trials and imprisonments under Islamic laws continue.

Another Sudanese official said privately that leaders could never set aside laws seen as laws of God or Allah.

A top aide to SPLA leader Col. John Garang, said the SPLA (which is mostly non-Muslim) could not agree to a pact that maintains such laws.

According to Lam Akol, the SPLA delegation leader in Nairobi, more fighting lies ahead. Bashir has promised to win back rebel-held territory in a war which neutral analysts, as well as Commander Akol, consider militarily unwinable by either side.

When both sides in the Ethiopian conflict meet again, the key question will be what to do about Eritrea, the northernmost province of Ethiopia.

The rebel Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) seeks independence. The Soviet-backed Ethiopian government says it will never agree to Eritrea's independence. But EPLF officials here for the talks, repeated their position privately that they would accept less than independence - autonomy for example - if the Eritreans voted for it in an internationally supervised referendum.

Meanwhile in Somalia, Somalis continue to flee the country as fighting there escalates between the government and rebel groups seeking to topple the government.

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