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Sudan president skips on a meeting with Chadian counterpart because of headache

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March 12, 2008 (DAKAR) — Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir failed to attend a meeting on Wednesday where he was due to sign a non-aggression pact with Chad’s President Idriss Deby because he reported having a headache, officials said.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (L) greets his Chadian counterpart Idriss Deby at Dakar airport (AFP)

Bashir had arrived in Senegal earlier for an Islamic summit but did not appear at the presidential palace, where Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and African, U.S. and European diplomats had waited for hours.

"He rang me up. He said he’d been travelling, that he’d been in Dubai the day before and that he had a headache," Wade said on the steps of his palace, with fellow mediator and African elder statesman President Omar Bongo of Gabon by his side.

"He asked me to postpone it until tomorrow morning," said Wade, adding the meeting was now planned to take place after the opening ceremony of the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Thursday.

When cameramen were allowed in for a photo opportunity, the chair meant for Bashir was empty and the assembled heads of state and diplomats who had waited for almost three hours looked visibly annoyed.

Some said there were doubts about whether the pact would be signed at all.

Wade, who has sought a mediation role in several African conflicts, has drafted a peace accord to be signed by Deby and Bashir in the hope it can help end years of conflict on both sides of their common border, which includes the Darfur region.

Chad and Sudan have long traded accusations of supporting rebels hostile to each other. A series of previous peace pacts signed by Deby and Bashir in the past two years have collapsed amid renewed fighting in both countries.

Bashir, who accuses Deby of failing to respect previous deals to stop supporting insurgents, has questioned the usefulness of yet another accord on paper.

REBEL STANCE

Rebels from both Chad and the Darfur region, seen by many as fighting a proxy war for the feuding presidents, have dismissed the planned pact, criticising it for failing to include them and saying it would not bring lasting peace.

"It’s going nowhere. It’s just a protocol, a ceremony," said Ali Ordjo Hemchi, a representative of the Chadian rebel National Alliance, whose forces raided the capital N’Djamena last month.

"They can sign, but it’s not going to produce anything," said Hemchi, adding that at least five previous accords, brokered mostly by Libya but also by Saudi Arabia, had collapsed. "It’s a non-event."

Sudan’s rebels were equally pessimistic.

"The Khartoum government has signed agreements with Chad ... agreements with the United Nations. And still our people are getting killed," Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) chairman Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur said.

About 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 in Darfur’s conflict, which pits Sudanese government forces and allied militia against local rebels who say the western region has been neglected and marginalised by the Khartoum government.

Alex de Waal, an analyst and writer who specialises in Sudan and Chad, said he did not believe either Deby or Bashir were interested in non-military options.

"If they do sign, it’ll be purely for tactical reasons to gain credit with the international community," he said.

(Reuters)

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