Salva KiirKHARTOUM, July 27 (Reuters) - Sudan's former southern rebels said on Sunday their leader would run for the presidency in elections due next year under a landmark 2005 peace deal which ended Africa's longest civil war. Sudan's north-south civil war ended with an accord that shared power and wealth, created a semi-autonomous south Sudan, and envisaged democratic elections and a southern vote on secession by 2011.

The southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) joined the national government and its head, Salva Kiir, became first vice president. "The SPLM has officially decided to contest the elections on all levels including the president's position," senior SPLM official Yasir Arman told Reuters after an SPLM leadership meeting lasting several days. He said Kiir would be nominated for the presidency. "All the indications show very clearly that the SPLM is going to be a leading force and will definitely win the elections," he added.

The SPLM has registered tens of thousands of members in northern Sudan but some in the north say Kiir does not spend enough time in Khartoum and that many SPLM ministers in the national government have not been active enough. Arman said the Darfur conflict had to be resolved before the elections so that the remote western region could take part. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on July 14 for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, creating a political crisis in Sudan.

Arman said the SPLM had drawn up a plan to end the Darfur crisis and deal with the ICC warrant but would make no details public until it had met Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP). "We are looking for a joint leadership meeting between the NCP and SPLM as soon as possible to discuss the present crisis in the country and how we can defuse this crisis," Arman added.

Sudan has gained African Union and Arab League support for a U.N. Security Council resolution suspending any warrant for Bashir for a renewable 12-month period. Sudan has also indicated it may use national courts to try Darfur war crimes suspects. International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the central government of neglect. Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militia to quell the revolt who are accused of atrocities such as rape, murder and looting. Last year the ICC indicted a Sudanese junior government minister and an allied militia leader for war crimes but Khartoum refuses to recognise the court. Sudan signed but did not ratify the treaty forming the ICC.

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