KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ The government extended by three months a cease-fire that expired Wednesday to allow food to reach civilians caught in the war with rebels in the south.

Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail told reporters that the government accepted a truce even though it is aware the rebels may benefit by allowing them to regroup and rearm.

``The extension of the cease-fire ... is in recognition of the humanitarian situation and in response to international and regional efforts,'' Ismail was quoted as saying by the official Sudan News Agency.

The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army announced last week a similar three-month extension to the three-month truce that the two sides had concluded in July for the southern Bahr el-Ghazal province.

Ismail also reiterated the government's wish for an unlimited truce ``to enable delivery of relief to the affected citizens in south Sudan and create a suitable atmosphere for peace.''

He accused the rebels of moving fighters from Bahr el-Ghazal to the Equatoria area where fighting is taking place now.

Aid workers estimate about 1.5 million people are facing severe food shortages in southern Sudan, mainly in Bahr el-Ghazal, as a result of drought and fighting.

The U.N. World Food Program is dropping 9,500 tons of food a month into the south in the world's largest aid operation.

Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war for 15 years, pitting Christian and animist rebels fighting for more autonomy against the government in the Muslim, Arab north. About 1.5 million people have died in the war and famines caused by the fighting.