Darfur peace talks a 'moment of truth'

Darfur peace talks, aimed at stopping chaotic violence plaguing Sudan’s west, will be a “moment of truth”, United Nations envoy Jan Eliasson said on Thursday.

He urged all of the more than a dozen fractured Darfur rebel factions to attend the talks due to start in Libya on October 27 and said an urgent ceasefire would be the priority.

“The first very concrete step ... is that we will go for, and hopefully achieve, a credible cessation of hostilities,” Eliasson told reporters in Khartoum, adding that invites to most rebel groups would be sent for the first stage of talks.

“I find the situation on the ground ... deeply alarming.
The military escalation is a great source of concern.”

Some rebel leaders have said they will not go unless only one delegation from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and one from the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) talks with Khartoum.

But with more than a dozen factions since last year’s May peace deal, signed by only group, that is unlikely to happen.

Eliasson said preconditions were dangerous.

“To miss this opportunity is a tragedy—this is the moment of truth,” he said.

“Haven’t we seen enough violence and hopelessness? Don’t we see what is happening to the social fabric of Darfur ... torn apart completely—is this what we want to perpetuate?”

Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, the SLA founder with huge popular support, said he would not attend the talks until a UN force was deployed to stem the violence, which has exploded with civilians, African Union peacekeepers, militias and rebels caught up in clashes in southern Darfur, with dozens killed.

On Thursday, the only rebel faction to sign the 2006 deal called for an international investigation into an attack on their forces in Muhajiriya, South Darfur, where at least 45 were killed and dozens injured.

The SLA blames Sudan’s army for the attack, although the army has denied any involvement.

“There has to be an international investigation immediately,” said Minni Arcua Minnawi, the head of the SLA who became presidential adviser in Khartoum.

“We are committed to the peace and the ceasefire but we want the government to not repeat any action like this.”

Formal complaint

The attack on Muhajiriya, Minnawi’s main town, was the latest in an upsurge of violence in southern Darfur after the worst attack on African Union peacekeepers since they deployed, killing and wounding at least 20 and destroying their base in Haskanita.

Two aid agencies working in the town as part of efforts to quell one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters evacuated 29 staff after they were trapped by the fighting.

Minnawi said his movement had written a formal complaint to the UN and AU about the assault.

The army blamed tribal clashes between the Zaghawa and Maaliya in the area. Minnawi’s party accused Khartoum earlier this year of arming the Arab Maaliya tribe.

“This is the behaviour of the government. They will never commit to any agreement,” Minnawi told Reuters from Darfur.

“This will have a negative effect on peace talks.”

Minnawi is in Darfur to meet rebel factions, who rejected the last deal, to persuade them to attend the talks, mediated by the UN and the AU, and unify their ranks.

In a report made public on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “extremely concerned” about the “unacceptable” violence in the vast region, which he said was “not contributing to an atmosphere conducive to the peace talks”.

He said the attack on the AU peacekeepers “confirms that the ... force which will be deployed to Darfur must be sufficiently robust to defend itself from spoilers and protect civilians from attack”.

A 26 000-strong AU-UN peacekeeping force is planned.

Mostly non-Arabs took up arms in early 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglect. International experts estimate 200 000 have died and 2,5-million been driven from their homes in four-and-a-half years of fighting.

Khartoum puts the death toll at 9 000 and says the West has exaggerated the conflict in Darfur.—Reuters

Client Media Releases

UKZN academic awarded two international fellowships
NWU takes sports development to new heights