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FILE PHOTO: South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar (R) and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir exchange signed peace agreement documents in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia May 9, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan said on Tuesday that South Sudanese rebels will sign the latest draft of a comprehensive peace deal with the Juba government later this week after assurances that a power-sharing accord inked earlier this month will be honoured.
President Salva Kiir and the leader of the main rebel group, Riek Machar, signed up to the ceasefire and power-sharing agreement earlier this month after an initial deal in June aimed to end fighting that first broke out in 2013.
Kiir's government and some small opposition groups had initialled the draft at a ceremony hosted by Khartoum outside the Sudanese capital earlier on Tuesday, but Machar's SPLM-IO and another rebel group refused to sign, saying that disputes over power sharing and a new constitution had been left out.
The agreement is intended to end years of civil war in Africa's youngest state that has killed thousands of people.
"Intensive negotiations with Dr. Riek Machar ... has led to Dr. Riek Machar agreeing to initial the final peace agreement the day after tomorrow, on Thursday, August 30," Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed said in a statement.
He said Khartoum assured Machar that the points he had raised would be taken up at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a gathering of east Africa nations that has been trying to end the war in South Sudan.
Sudan has brokered talks between Kiir and various rebel groups in Khartoum this year.
The stability of South Sudan is important for Sudan and other countries, which fear a new flare up of the conflict could flood them with refugees.
Mohamed had earlier told reporters that it was not possible to make peace in South Sudan without Machar.
"We hope that the sides which did not make the final signature today will sign in due course," he said.
Previous South Sudan peace deals have held for only a matter of months before fighting resumed. Kiir blamed the collapse of those agreements on foreign influence.
U.S. DOUBTS PEACE PROSPECTS
South Sudan's civil war erupted in 2013, less than two years after it gained independence from Sudan.
Fuelled by personal and ethnic rivalries, the conflict has killed tens of thousands, displaced an estimated quarter of South Sudan's population of 12 million and ruined its economy, which heavily relies on crude oil production.
The secession of South Sudan also hit Khartoum's economy hard, taking with it most of the region's oil reserves.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said earlier this month - just after Kiir and Machar signed the Aug. 5 ceasefire agreement - that oil would be pumped from South Sudan's Wahda region to Sudan beginning in September.
Khartoum and Juba agreed in June to repair oil infrastructure facilities destroyed by the war within three months to boost production and said a joint force would be established to protect oilfields from attacks by rebels.
While Khartoum has trumpeted breakthroughs in the talks it hosted, the United States, which backed South Sudan's independence, says it is sceptical about peace prospects.
The White House said last month it doubted whether Kiir and Machar have the leadership qualities needed to deliver peace, adding that it would impose fresh sanctions on anyone who threatens South Sudan's stability.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, writing by John Davison and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Editing by Andrew Bolton)