Darfur rebel group suspends talks with Sudan govt

Darfur’s most powerful rebel group has suspended meetings with Sudan’s government at peace talks in Qatar in protest at Khartoum’s plan to hold a referendum in the war-torn region, the group’s chief negotiator said on Tuesday.

A brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur in 2003 sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, prompting more than two million people to flee.

Violence has since subsided but several rounds of peace talks have failed to secure a truce due to rebel divisions and continued military action.

Insecurity continues to plague the region. A UN-African Union (Unamid) peacekeeper was killed on Tuesday when armed gunmen hijacked a mission vehicle during a patrol in North Darfur, the force said in a statement.

Two other peacekeepers were injured, one of them seriously. One of the attackers was killed in the firefight.

In Qatar’s capital Doha, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said it had stopped talks with Khartoum for several days in Qatar’s capital Doha over the government’s decision to hold a referendum on the administrative make-up of Darfur.

‘Unilateral decision’
JEM chief negotiator Ahmed Tugod Lissan accused Khartoum of taking the decision without consultation.

“It is not acceptable that the government, instead of resolving this through negotiation, is taking a unilateral decision to carry out the referendum in the way they want,” Lissan told Reuters.

“Darfur is not ready for a referendum. People are living in refugee camps. People are not in a position to participate freely and express their will in a proper way.”

Still, JEM remained in Doha and would return to the negotiating table if Khartoum reversed its position, he said.

Sudan, which has said it is stepping up efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis, last week issued a presidential decree allowing the referendum on whether to unify the three states of Darfur into one region.

The government has previously said the vote could take place within the next two months and would be drawn up according to the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement — a failed accord, recently abandoned by the only significant rebel group to sign it.

Rebels have also been angered by Khartoum’s plan to create two additional states in western Darfur, which they say is a bid to cause divisions and strengthen control by the government.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of masterminding genocide and war crimes during the counter-insurgency campaign. The United Nations says as many as 300 000 people have died since the mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum, which puts the death toll at 10 000. – Reuters

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