Earlier talks at Machakos in Kenya resulted in a draft peace agreement to end the 19-year-long civil war. The proposed settlement would exempt the mainly Christian and animist south from sharia law, set up a power-sharing administration and, after a six-year period, allow a referendum on the possible secession of the south. The next round of talks will begin in Nairobi on 12 August.

Western diplomats say intense pressure from the US has kept the two parties at the negotiating table. ‘There has definitely been a change,’ UK special envoy Alan Goulty told MEED on 29 July. ‘The previous US administration was so hostile to the Sudanese government, partly due to embarrassment over the attack on the Al-Shifa factory. The new administration in Washington has started with a new agenda, and is much more prepared to engage with the government.’

A US State Department official has confirmed that Washington is advising both parties on sharing oil reserves in southern Sudan. The chief target of US sanctions is the 230,000-barrel-a-day Greater Nile oil project. Analysts say the peace talks have piqued the interest of investors in the 25 per cent stake held by Calgary-based Talisman, the only Western oil company operating in Sudan. ‘All of Talisman’s assets are for sale at the right price, and we have had talks with several other entities about Sudan,’ a spokesman for the company told MEED on 29 July.