An accord would dismantle a big hurdle to ending Africa's longest conflict in the continent's biggest country - a 20-year-old civil war that has cost two million lives and uprooted four million people.

   

However Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka on Tuesday said the parties, meeting in his country's Rift Valley town of Naivasha, were unlikely to sign a separate accord on wealth and would instead work on through Christmas to clinch a more inclusive peace pact.

 

Piecemeal

   

"The two leaders have agreed on wealth sharing... It's an agreement in principle," he said, referring to rebel leader John Garang and Sudan's Vice-President Osman Ali Taha.

   

"The two parties have decided not to sign piecemeal agreements. They will work through Christmas and sign (a more inclusive) agreement by the end of this year," Taha said.

 

The men agreed in principle on taking an equal share of oil revenues, but Musyoka's announcement suggested they had also reached preliminary agreement on sharing taxes, the central bank's role and questions about the currency.

   

"The two leaders have agreed on wealth sharing... It's an agreement in principle"

Kalonzo Musyoka,
Foreign Minister, Kenya

The oil deal was a major concession by the government, which had wanted only 5% of oil revenues to go to the SPLA. Sudan's main oil fields are in the south, where the SPLA is based. Sudan exports 300,000 barrels of oil per day.

   

Wealth is only one of three outstanding topics - the others are power sharing in the interim period and the status of Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile.

 

These three areas are part of northern Sudan, but the SPLA says they are marginalised, like the rest of the south, and have demanded self-rule for them and a waiver on Islamic law.    

 

War broke out in Sudan in 1983, pitting the Islamic government in the Arab-speaking north against rebels seeking more autonomy for the largely animist or Christian south. Oil, ideology, ethnicity and religion have complicated the situation.

   

The government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) agreed last year to a waiver on Islamic law in non-Muslim areas and a six-year transitional period from January 2004 after which the south would vote on whether to secede.