Sudan's Foreign Minister, Mustafa Ismail told the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram on Thursday that peace talks with southern rebels will not resume unless the mediating African body modifies the draft accord.

But a spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), Samson Kwaje, told Agence France Presse that any changes to the document must be discussed between the two parties.

"Our position is still that we adopt (July's) Nakuru draft framework as the basis for negotiations," said Kwaje.

"If there are any changes they have to be made as a result of negotiations between the SPLM and GoS (Government of Sudan)," he said, adding that the rebel movement will attend the talks expected to open in the central Kenyan town of Nanyuki on Sunday.

North-south divide

The SPLM/A has been fighting since 1983 to end domination of the south by the government in Khartoum.

"(Khartoum is) putting obstacles to the peace process by giving preconditions... This is unacceptable."

Samson Kwaje, Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army

In the last round of talks with the SPLM/A in Nakuru, Kenya last month, the government rejected a draft accord prepared by east African mediators of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on outstanding issues such as power- and wealth-sharing and security arrangements during a six-year transition period agreed last year.

IGAD comprises the east African states of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and, nominally, Somalia.

Khartoum said the draft prepared the way for the secession of southern Sudan with a separate army and independent central bank during the interim phase.

"Peace talks will resume if IGAD takes a new initiative providing for reasonable arrangements in the interim period," Ismail told Al-Ahram.

Kwaje said Khartoum was "putting obstacles to the peace process by giving preconditions." "This is unacceptable," he added.

Early concessions

John Garang of the SPLA (R) and fellow Sudanese opposition leaders.

In the Kenyan town of Machakos in July last year, Khartoum and the SPLA struck a breakthrough accord granting the south the right to self-determination after a six-year transition period and exempting the south from Islamic sharia law.

Sudan has been in a state of civil war almost constantly since it achieved independence in 1956.

Opposition factions to be consulted

The Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, is taking steps toward a less autocratic style of government, inviting opposition groups Umma, the Democratic Unionists, and Popular Conference to a Saturday meeting on nationwide issues, Aljazeera reported.

As a prelude to the talks, the government has released a number of political detainees amid news that the controversial Islamist leader, Hassan al-Turabi, jailed in 2001 on charges of undermining the government's authority, will be also freed, our correspondent said.