One indication of the significance of this round of talks was that Friday's opening was conducted by Kenya's foreign minister Kalonzo Musyoka.

Another was Musyoka's public voicing of reports that the US Secretary of State would visit Kenya in the event of a final deal being reached.

"All indications are US Secretary of State Colin Powell will come to Kenya next week to encourage both parties, or to witness the signing of the agreement," said Musyoka at the opening ceremony of the talks' latest round.

These discussions are meant to iron out differences on the three issues still outstanding in the drawn-out peace process: unresolved aspects of power-sharing and wealth-sharing, as well as the status of three disputed geographical areas.

Progress

Previous rounds have already produced agreements between the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) on a six-year period of autonomy for the south ahead of a referendum on its future status as well as on security arrangements during those interim years.

Colin Powell will attend the talks next week

Some issues of power - and wealth - sharing have already been dealt with.

"Allow me to congratulate you for the monumental achievement that you realised during the last session," Musyoka said at the opening ceremony.

"Mine is to encourage you to build on what you have already started. The whole world is watching and waiting with high expectations that you will reach an agreement this time around," Musyoka stressed.

This round of talks is scheduled to end on 25 October.

Desire for peace

Taking the floor after Musyoka, SPLA leader Garang said: "Although the remaining issues are important and difficult, the international community is keen, but above all, the Sudanese people in all parts - north, south, east and west - want peace," Garang said.

Some 1.5 million people have been killed and about four million displaced since the SPLA took up arms against Khartoum in 1983.

"It is our determination that we will deliver peace to our people and the world at large," Garang stressed.

"We have come, as we did last time, with the same level of openness, commitment, determination and purpose to move on with the remaining issues so that we are able to reach a peace settlement," Garang added.

Optimism

Taha spoke in a similarly optimistic vein.

"I thank Garang for what he has delivered and I hope we on our part will do the same for the people of Sudan"

Ali Osman Taha,
Sudanese vice president

"We are here with full dedication and determination to settle the remaining issues, and we hope that in this hall that we signed an agreement on security, we will also sign a comprehensive peace agreement," said the Sudanese vice president.

"I thank Garang for what he has delivered and I hope we on our part will do the same for the people of Sudan," Taha added.

Asked if a final deal was feasible during this round, Nick Haysom, an advisor to the Kenyan mediator of the peace process, told news agency AFP: "It is possible."

"We hope that they will sign a comprehensive peace agreement in this round of talks. I am particularly encouraged with the positive attitude displayed by both parties," he said.