Envoys to meet Darfur rebels over talks boycott

Darfur rebels boycotting peace talks in Libya said on Tuesday they would meet envoys from an African Union-United Nations mediation team but specified conditions that gave little hope they would change their positions.

Mediators had hoped to unite the rival rebel factions before peace talks opened in Libya on October 27. But negotiations began in the coastal Libyan town of Sirte with none of the key factions present.

On Tuesday the joint UN and AU mediation team said it was sending delegations to the rebel leadership who did not attend.

“This is part of the continuing process of consultations,” said AU spokesperson Noureddine Mezni. “We are having consultations with those here in Sirte and will be having consultations with those outside too.”

He did not have a specific date for the talks.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) Unity, the main fighting factions in Darfur, said they wanted united delegations from the rebel side before they went to any talks.

“Whether or not they come, this will not change the reality,” JEM chief negotiator Ahmed Tugod Lissan told Reuters from Darfur.
“If they want to take us to Sirte they have to remove all those other [rebel] factions.”

Lissan said earlier mediators had not invited the “genuine parties that should be part of the peace process” to the talks, siding instead with the Sudanese government by inviting people specified by Khartoum.

He said only one delegation from JEM and one from SLA should be invited.

SLA Unity said it would need at least one or two months to unify its cadres. “We want time to hold internal consultations and we want all the SLA factions to unite under one leadership and go as one delegation,” said SLA Unity head Abdallah Yehya.

Tension

Some factions also object to the venue—Libya—saying its leader, Moammar Gadaffi, is not a neutral party because of his historic role in regional turmoil and recent comments they say minimised the seriousness of the Darfur conflict.

“Libya is not a neutral place,” said senior SLA commander Jar el-Neby.

Another key rebel leader, SLA chairperson and founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, who is supported by hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, said he would not attend until a UN force had deployed and provided security, a condition that could take more than a year to finalise.

He rejected the peace talks from the outset.

“Except for Salim Ahmed Salim I am ready to meet anyone from the mediation and anyone who is serious about real peace,” he said, referring to the AU envoy for Darfur, who mediated a May 2006 peace deal which most factions rejected.

“But I have made my position very clear. I am not going to these talks.”

Mediators had hoped the negotiations in Libya would help end spiralling chaos in Darfur, which has claimed an estimated 200 000 lives and driven 2,5-million from their homes. The world’s largest aid operation is struggling amid continued violence to sustain about two-thirds of Darfur’s population.

The Sirte meeting is the first attempt to gather Darfur rebels and the government around a negotiating table since 2006, when the AU mediated Darfur peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.

Signed by only one rebel faction, the Abuja deal had little support among Darfuris in displacement camps and it triggered fresh violence as rebels split into more than a dozen factions.

Arab donors

Pekka Haavisto, UN Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson’s deputy, said the faster mediators sought to attract absent rebel chiefs the better chances of success the process would have.

“It is a disappointment that groups are missing, but we go ahead with what we have until it is decided otherwise. I believe that with good diplomatic work, we can get most groups in,” said Haavisto, who helped the mediators prepare for the Sirte talks.

“The faster we can meet these groups, the better,” he told reporters at a Helsinki news conference. “We cannot go on with a business-as-usual attitude with those present. That would create tension between those present and those absent.”

On Tuesday an Arab League donor conference for Darfur opened. Diplomatic sources said Arab countries would donate about $300-million to the relief effort. Sudan receives about $1-billion a year in UN aid, mostly from Western nations.—Reuters

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