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UN envoy blames Darfur rebels for deaths of aid officials

KHARTOUM, Oct 27 (AFP) — The United Nations special envoy to Sudan blamed ethnic minority rebels in Darfur for the deaths earlier this month of two humanitarian aid workers in the war-torn region.

Sudanese workers stand outside the Sudanese Red Crescent compound in al-Fasher, North Darfur, Sudan, Aug. 31, 2004

"It was the rebels who are responsible for attacking relief workers and convoys, they are responsible for burying landmines which killed two relief workers," Jan Pronk told reporters in Khartoum.

The United Nations said on October 12 that two humanitarian aid workers from Britain’s Save the Children fund were killed in Sudan’s western Darfur region when their vehicle hit an explosive device.

The blast that killed the two, one an international aid worker and the other from Sudan, was believed to have been caused by a landmine or unexploded ordnance, according to a UN statement.

Pronk accused the government and the two main rebel groups in the region, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of continuing to violate an April ceasefire agreement signed in Chad.

He also accused the parties of escalating military operations and urged them to "put the interests of the people of Darfur in front of their eyes and speed up reaching a political agreement in Abuja."

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebels in the Nigerian capital broke down after less than an hour on Wednesday, despite a promise from the administration to consider a power-sharing deal.

The UN envoy said despite the setback he remained optimistic that the two sides would reach an agreement.

Pronk added that he had also noted attacks by the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias had eased, "except for a few of them who are engaged in robbing and looting".

The Janjaweed have been blamed for atrocities against African farmers in Darfur, including massacres, rape and destruction of villages and the UN Security Council has threatened to impose sanctions against Sudan unless it reins in them.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Darfur and 1.4 million people fled their homes since the SLM and JEM rose up against Khartoum in February 2003 to demand an end to the marginalisation of their region.