/ 6 November 2007

Mbeki, al-Bashir hold talks in Cape Town

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and President Thabo Mbeki were meeting on Tuesday for talks expected to focus on tensions in southern Sudan and the deteriorating situation in Darfur.

South Africa played a key role in forging the 2005 peace deal that ended 21 years of civil war in Sudan that left an estimated two million dead.

Mbeki, who prides himself on his diplomatic skills, is expected to speak to al-Bashir about bringing the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement back into the power-sharing government.

The movement — which represents the Christian and animist south — walked out of the unity government, accusing Sudan’s Arab-dominated government of violating the 2005 peace deal

But South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said before al-Bashir’s visit that Mbeki hoped it would return to the government.

It was unclear whether Mbeki would seek to put pressure on al-Bashir over the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where more than 200 000 people have died and 2,5-million others have been displaced.

Negotiations between the Sudanese government and the rebels — meant to have started last week — were postponed after the most prominent rebel leaders failed to show up.

Al-Bashir’s government is accused of arming local Arab militias known as the Janjaweed who are blamed for widespread atrocities against civilians.

The Sudanese government denies any guilt, but a Cabinet minister and a Janjaweed chief have been charged by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands, with crimes against humanity.

An honour guard greeted al-Bashir as he arrived on Tuesday at the parliamentary complex in Cape Town, and he is to be feted at a state banquet in the evening.

But the Cape Times called al-Bashir an ”unwelcome guest”.

”This is the man who has been almost universally condemned for ordering his pilots to drop bombs on civilians in Darfur and for providing hidden support for the terrible Janjaweed,” it said in an editorial.

”Mbeki must tell al-Bashir that his commitment to peace in both the south and Darfur is widely suspect and that he needs to do something dramatic to convince South Africa and the international community that he is sincere,” the newspaper said.

On Wednesday, Mbeki and al-Bashir are to tour Robben Island, where anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. – Sapa-AP