Home | News    Saturday 7 August 2004

AU says talks between Khartoum, Darfur rebels to begin in Nigeria on August 23

ADDIS ABABA, Aug 7 (AFP) — Peace talks between the Sudanese government and the two rebel movements fighting in the western Darfur region will take place in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on August 23, African Union (AU) spokesman Adam Thiam told AFP.

"The peace talks between the Darfur rebels and (Sudanese) government will take place on August 23 in Abuja under the auspices of the current AU chairperson (Nigerian President Olusegun) Obasanjo," Thiam said in Addis Ababa, where the AU’s headquarters are located.

"The rebels have confirmed to the chairperson that they will be represented at the highest level in their leadership (and the) government has also agreed to send a high-level delegation to participate in the peace talks," he added.

An earlier AU effort to persuade the rebels and government to engage in direct political negotiations failed in mid-July when the two rebel groups — the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement — said they would not participate in talks until Khartoum demilitarized Darfur and prosecuted alleged war criminals there.

It was not clear on Saturday whether the rebels had changed their position.

On Wednesday Thiam told AFP that the talks could begin by the end of the month, while the Sudanese junior foreign minister said Khartoum would consider new talks but only without conditions.

The rebellion in Darfur erupted in February 2003 when minority tribes rose up against the Khartoum government demanding an equal share of national development and protection for the local population.
The revolt prompted a heavy-handed crackdown by government troops alongside allied militia called Janjaweed, spawning what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Up to 50,000 people have died, according to UN estimates, and around 1.2 million others have been displaced, with around 200,000 already settled in sweltering camps in impoverished eastern Chad.

Both sides have violated a ceasefire signed on April 8, thereby complicating efforts by aid agencies to deliver supplies to the region, the size of France.

The AU said this week said it was planning to transform what was supposed to be a small 300-man unit to protect AU observers overseeing a shaky ceasefire in Darfur into a 2,000-strong peacekeeping force, which will have a broader mandate of ensuring that there is security.

Saturday’s announcement comes only days after the Khartoum government agreed to disarm marauding Arab militias, called Janjaweed, accused of a reign of terror in Darfur, as demanded by the UN Security Council in a resolution passed July 30.

The resolution, which avoided the term "sanctions", made no mention of possible use of force, although Western officials have spoken of sending troops to Darfur to try to force an end to the crisis.

The UN Security Council has tasked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with presenting a report at the end of August on the progress made by the Sudanese government in Darfur.

Short of an immediate military intervention, Khartoum risks being slapped with international sanctions should its efforts be deemed insufficient by the UN.