July 15, 2007 (TRIPOLI) — The United Nations and African Union host a meeting in Tripoli on Sunday to evaluate the troubled peace process in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur, which is bedevilled by fragmented rebel groups and competing initiatives.
The meeting aims to unify competing peace plans and set the stage for negotiations, UN Sudan envoy Jan Eliasson told AFP.
Eliasson and his AU counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, have led four recent missions to Sudan and had numerous contacts with rebel groups and neighbouring countries.
Last week, following their latest mission, Eliasson expressed optimism that “the moment of truth” for Darfur was approaching. He said invitations for final negotiations could be sent out as early as September.
“I think the next month or two are going to be absolutely crucial for the future of Darfur,” Eliasson said on Saturday.
The AU said Salim has extracted a commitment from rebel chief Khalil Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) “to take part in all future negotiations aimed at completing the process of creating a final and lasting peace in Darfur.”
Khartoum, which has been accused of sponsoring a genocidal crackdown on the rebels through its Janajaweed militia, has assured the UN that it does not seek a military solution to the four-year conflict.
“The Darfur dispute should be resolved through peaceful negotiation only,” Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Ali Al Sadiq was quoted as saying by the Sudan Media Centre.
Since rebels took up arms in 2003 complaining of marginalisation by Khartoum, the UN estimates some 200,000 people have been killed and two million displaced.
A May 2006 peace deal failed to halt the fighting. Only one rebel group signed on and then promptly split into competing factions. The JEM is one group that has so far refused to sign the agreement.
UN and AU negotiators are in near daily contact with the roughly dozen rebel groups, but many have not yet agreed to join the talks, Eliasson said.
Ali Triki, who heads the Africa desk at the Libyan foreign ministry, told AFP that “representatives of most of the Sudanese rebel movements are also in Tripoli for talks on the sidelines of the conference.
“The meeting will fix a date for the start of negotiations with the rebel groups that did not sign the Abuja accord” last year, he added.
Five rebel factions formed a new alliance on Saturday in Asmara to present a united front for peace negotiations with Khartoum and appealed “to all other movements to unify efforts,” they said in a statement.
But several major rebel groups, including the Sudan Liberation Movement, the Greater Sudan Liberation Movement and the JEM, remain outside the new alliance.
Many competing initiatives have been presented by neighbouring countries, including Egypt, Eritrea and Libya which could be synthesised into a single coherent approach in Tripoli, Eliasson said.
Also attending are Britain, Canada, Chad, China, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, the United States, the Arab League and the European Union as well as Sudan.
Eritrean President Issaias Afworki said in Asmara on Saturday that his country had called for “stepped up endeavours, so that the Tripoli meeting may reach a joint consensus to resolve the Darfur issue.”
The meeting comes as the UN examines a revised Security Council draft resolution authorising a joint peacekeeping force in Darfur for an initial 12 months to replace the embattled AU force.
It says the proposed force, to be known as UNAMID, will “consist of up to 19,555 military personnel and an appropriate civilian component including up to 3,772 police personnel.”
The ill-equipped and underfunded AU force of 7,000 soldiers has been unable to stem the violence and is often targeted by the warring parties.
“We have had success recently with the decision on the hybrid force and the progress on the peacekeeping side, and we definitely now need to move on the political arena,” Eliasson told AFP