Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (L)
has been instrumental in the
Sudanese peace process

Lazarus Sumbeiywo, the Kenyan president's peace envoy in Sudan, told a group of southern Sudanese opposition politicians of his hopes for an end to the civil war.

"I am optimistic about peace. A lot of the disagreements the two sides had have been resolved... an agreement will be ready for signing by both parties next August,” he said. 

Sumbeiywo added that international pressure and the situation inside Sudan would encourage the government to sign. He believes the next round of peace talks might start later this month or in July. 

The agreement is for a six-year period of autonomy for the south ahead of a referendum to decide whether it would secede or be granted more autonomy.

Financial support

Arab countries are contributing funds to help rebuild southern Sudan, a region that has suffered 20 years of violence, the Arab League said on Saturday.

Libya has committed one million dollars, Qatar more than $700,000 and Syria some $525,000 dollars, the pan-Arab grouping said in a statement published during a meeting of Arab and Islamic states and donor organizations in Khartoum.

"These contributions support the unity of Sudan," Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail told a press conference after the meeting.

The special $450 million fund was originally set up last year at an Arab summit in Beirut and seeks to integrate the south more fully with the rest of the country’s economy.

Points of contention

The government and the SPLA have held several rounds of talks in the Kenyan town of Machakos, seeking to end the civil war. But a Sudanese government official said last month the latest round in May made little progress.

Both sides have been unable to agree on how to carve up political power and the region’s resources, including oil. They are also at odds over where to put the capital and how to structure the army.

John Garang (L), SPLA leader, 
also held talks with the US

A ceasefire in the south expires at the end of June, but the government has said it would be extended.

About two million people have been killed since war began in Sudan in 1983. The conflict pits the government in the north against the SPLA which wants more autonomy.

Hamas presence reviewed

Rsponding to US complaints about its playing host to Hamas, Khartoum said it would review the Palestinian group's status in Sudan if it went beyond the limits of purely political activity.

Foreign Minister Ismail's remarks, published on Sunday in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, follow his talks in Washington last month with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"Our view was that the presence of Hamas in Sudan is political but if it is proved to Sudan that Hamas is practising any activities that the Sudanese government considers outside the permitted political area, then the government is ready to
look at the issue," he said.
 
Washington in recent months has sought to end all Hamas political activity.

The US also lists Sudan as one of seven "state sponsors of terrorism", which carries US economic and other sanctions.