Home | News    Tuesday 10 August 2004

Darfur rebels not aware of talks, welcome Nigeria

CAIRO, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Rebels from Sudan’s troubled Darfur region said on Tuesday they had not been informed of peace talks due to be held in Nigeria at the end of the month, but welcomed the choice of venue and mediation.

The African Union (AU) said on Sunday rebels and the government had agreed to talks mediated by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja on Aug. 23 to find a political solution to end a rebellion launched in remote Darfur by two rebel groups in February last year.

The United Nations says the conflict has claimed about 50,000 victims and displaced more than one million, triggering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

But both the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) told Reuters on Tuesday that they had told the AU they wanted to participate in deciding the time and place of negotiations but had not been consulted.

"Until now no one consulted us or discussed with us about the venue or the time so we cannot say we are going to attend. We have to participate to decide where," JEM spokesman Idriss Ibrahim said from Asmara.

"Generally we have no objections to Nigeria because it was we who suggested Nigeria originally," he added. "But the procedure they have done is not the right way."

SLA spokesman Mohamed Mursal also said the groups had received no official invitation to talks from the AU, although the group’s political leader had previously said the movement would attend.

"We do not have any opposition to the country itself ... of Nigeria as a place of negotiations. But we did not choose the place," Mursal added from Asmara.

He added the SLA was ready for talks and denied that the group had placed any preconditions on talks.

"We did not put conditions on the talks in Addis Ababa," he said, adding the rebels had simply asked the Sudanese government to implement a humanitarian ceasefire agreement signed in the Chadian capital N’Djamena in April.

Talks in Addis Ababa in July collapsed after the Sudanese government declined preconditions set by the rebels.

Sudan has said it will attend the Abuja talks without preconditions.

The rebellion was sparked after long conflict between ethnically African farmers and Arab nomadic tribes over scarce resources in Darfur.

Rebels accuse Khartoum of neglecting Darfur and of arming Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, to loot and burn African villages in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The government denies the charge and calls the Janjaweed outlaws.