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Government and Rebels Consider Cease-Fire in Civil War

August 2, 1986

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Sudan’s prime minister ended two days of talks with a rebel leader Friday and both men said the main issue in the conflict is the harsh code of justice in the Islamic sacred law known as the Sharia.

Prime Minister Sadiq el Mahdi and John Garang, commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, held separate news conferences and said three days of peace talks will begin here Monday.

They also said they had discussed a cease-fire in the three-year-old civil war that Garang’s forces have been waging in southern Sudan and an end to the state of emergency decreed 15 months ago.

Garang told reporters at his news conference that guerrillas shot down a Sudan air force aircraft Thursday near the southern provincial capital of Juba. ″We don’t have details. I don’t know wheter it was a helicopter or a jet fighter,″ he said.

El Mahdi’s Umma Party won the most seats in the April elections that restored a civilian government. He then opened peace negotiations.

He named Hammad Omer Bagadi, a university professor, to head the government delegation to the peace talks and Maj. Arok Thom Arok will lead the rebel side.

Moslems are dominant in northern Sudan, while most of the people in the impoverished southern zone are Christians or animists.

President Gaafar Mohammed Nimeiri, who was overthrown in a military coup in April 1985, had imposed Sharia in 1983 and said it would be strictly enforced, including ampuations for theft and death by stoning of women convicted of adultery. The military government did not change Nimeiri’s decree.

One of Garang’s key demands is the removal of Sharia, and el Mahdi said he has instructed his attorney general to develop an alternative code. He said that within 30 days his government would be prepared to submit its plan to the National Assembly for a vote.

″I believe that those laws (of the Sharia) are an insult to Islam, an insult to justice, and that is why I am opposed to them,″ he said.

″I am a commited Moslem and I have maintained that whatever legislation is needed to fulfill Moslem aspirations should always be constituted with the full human rights of non-Moslems.″

Garang’s group boycotted the April elections and is not represented in the National Assembly. He said changing the law without participation by the guerrillas would ″complicate the issue.″

Garang, in his report on the Juba fighting, said the downed aircraft was the first one that had tried to fly into the southern city since rebels began a siege on July 16.

The rebels and government troops have been battling for control of Juba, Sudan’s second-largest city, since mid-July. It is the only major southern city still in government hands.

Update hourly