Annan appeals for progress as new peace talks begin on Sudan

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — New talks to end the 15-year civil war in southern Sudan began Monday with few signs of progress in resolving the most contentious issues — religion and autonomy.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, on an eight-nation African tour, said he had appealed to both sides “to have the courage, the vision to make the sort of compromises necessary to come to a settlement.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations and other aid agencies warned of a possible famine in southern Sudan, where up to 700,000 people have been blocked from planting crops due to a severe drought and an upsurge in fighting.
Relief agencies and Britain had accused Sudan of preventing aid planes from flying into those regions under the most serious threat of starvation. That pressure prompted Sudan to shift its policy Sunday and let in more aid flights.
Annan welcomed Sudan’s decision and said that money is now the only obstacle facing U.N. relief operations in southern Sudan.
The established government favors an Islamic state governed by Islamic law, while the rebels want freedom of religion for all Sudanese, including the mostly Christian and animist southerners.
The rebels favor a confederation of northern and southern Sudan under which the south would enjoy great autonomy.
Some 1.5 million people have died in Sudan from the fighting and accompanying famines since conflict began in 1983. The talks are the eighth in a series since 1984.