Main Darfur rebels boycott peace talks

The main rebel group in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement, has boycotted key peace talks that kicked off Friday, at this Tanzanian city.

Main Darfur rebels boycott peace talks
The main rebel group in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement, has boycotted key peace talks that kicked off Friday, August 3, at this Tanzanian city between the region's fractious rebel groups in a bid to hammer out a united front for peace negotiations with the Sudanese government.

"We regret that (SLM founder) Abdel Wahid Nur is not here. We hope that with this decision, he is not excluding himself from the final negotiations we are planning," UN envoy UN counterpart Jan Eliasson told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Nur's faction contests the legitimacy of the many splinter rebel groups and also argues crunch talks with the government should only be considered once the new "hybrid force" of UN and AU peacekeepers is deployed.

"The more you recognize individuals as faction leaders by inviting them to talks like those in Arusha, the more factions there will be, and consequently disorder on the ground," Nur's spokesman Yahia Bolad, told AFP.

A Darfur peace deal was reached with the Sudanese government in Abuja in May 2006 but it was only endorsed by one of three negotiating rebel groups. Violence has since spiraled and splinter factions have flourished.

The signatory was Minni Minawi, a military commander who broke away from Nur's group and is now the fourth-ranking official in the Sudanese state.

According to a recent report on Darfur rebels, the need is not so much for an effort to revive the Abuja peace deal but for a new and inclusive process.

"Abuja is dead. Moving forward requires starting from scratch. The most immediate hurdle remains the rebels' lack of unity and political vision," said the report, published last month by the Small Arms Survey.

United Front

When the deadly conflict erupted in Darfur four and a half years ago, the uprising against the government in Khartoum was spearheaded by one group.

Now diplomats face the daunting task of finding common ground for a dozen rebel factions.

"Our objective is to find a common position. You cannot have negotiations with on the one hand, the Khartoum government, and seven, eight or nine rebel groups on the other," African Union envoy to Sudan Salim Ahmed Salim told reporters Friday in Arusha.

Some factions have made an effort to streamline their unwieldy ranks ahead of the Arusha talks.

In mid-July, the leaders of five rebel factions gathered in the Eritrean capital agreed to form an alliance, the United Front for Liberation and Development, and invited other splinter groups to join.

Another four movements — including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — adopted a common position ahead of Arusha during a meeting Tuesday in Tripoli.

JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam was optimistic that rebel groups could unite in Arusha and pave the way for final settlement talks.

"We reach an important time now... We welcomed the (UNSC) resolution on peacekeeping. Despite its shortcomings, it has opened the door for a new political process," he told AFP.

On Tuesday, July 31, the United Nations Security Council agreed to deploy 26,000 AU-UN peacekeepers in the western Sudanese region.

Following the Security Council's decision, the 7,000 outmanned and poorly equipped AU peacekeepers will now be replaced by a stronger AU-UN force.

Eliasson, the UN envoy in Darfur, said it was crucial now to rapidly capitalize on Tuesday's Security Council decision to boost the political process.

"I fear a very dangerous situation in the camps" of displaced people if there is no rapid progress on the political front, he said.

"It will take some time before all the peacekeepers are deployed. The political process is now at a crucial stage," he said.

At least 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced by the combined effect of war and famine since Darfur rebels complaining of marginalization rose up against Khartoum in February 2003.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 03 Ağustos 2007, 18:35