/ 19 September 2007

Darfur rebel chief wants security before talks

One of Darfur’s most powerful rebel leaders will not take part in peace talks until a lasting ceasefire is put in place and security is restored, he said in an interview published on Wednesday.

Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur has refused to join Darfur rebel commanders and groups who agreed a joint position last month, saying he wants international troops to disarm militias to secure the region before talks with the government.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Nur, whose backing is key to any peace deal, stuck to his position.

”I will refuse to take part in political negotiations as long as my people continue on the ground to be massacred, raped, colonised,” he said.

Nur commands few troops but enjoys huge support among the 2,5-million people who have fled their homes to camps in Darfur and across the border in Chad during four-and-a-half years of fighting.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the central government of marginalising the arid west. Khartoum mobilised militias, known as Janjaweed, to quell the revolt.

A 2006 peace deal was signed by only one of three negotiating factions, Nur’s rival Minni Arcua Minnawi.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that recent fighting in Darfur could derail peace talks he has announced will start in Libya next month.

Ban announced the talks jointly with the Sudanese government on September 6. He has reminded Khartoum that it promised a full cessation of hostilities ahead of the talks, due to start October 27.

Few European peacekeepers

”We are asking the international community for one thing and one thing only: security,” Nur was quoted as saying. The newspaper said he wanted an end to violence and a ceasefire in place before he would take part in talks.

The UN has approved a 26 000-strong UN and African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, told Le Monde he was having trouble putting together the force’s planned contingent of 6 000 police.

Further checks were needed to assess individual countries’ offers to supply troops for the force, most of whose members are expected to be African.

”We have offers for most of the components. But we will have to verify whether these have the necessary equipment, especially for the first large waves to establish the mission without delay,” Guehenno said.

”What worries me the most is the lack of technical transportation, trucks, helicopters,” he added.

European countries, many of which have been vocal about the urgent need to help Darfur, have been slow in offering manpower, he said.

”It is true that there are not many European offers for the moment. Some are thinking, the Nordic countries are ready to commit themselves, but we do not have concrete proposals for high-level engineering units, to drill wells for example, or for transportation,” he said. — Reuters