Sudan Rebels Say Darfur Talks Collapse

Published September 15, 2004

| Associated Press

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebels from the troubled Darfur (search) region have collapsed after three weeks without an accord, one of the two main rebel factions said Wednesday.

Sudan's government and Darfur's two rebel movements said they would abide by an African Union (search) proposal to break for at least three weeks before resuming their efforts to hammer out an agreement.

Last-round talks late Monday had focused on trying to get both sides to sign an accord on humanitarian access to an estimated 1.2 million refugees from Darfur's conflict. The partial agreement on humanitarian access would have represented the one clear success from the internationally brokered talks.

But despite urging from the talks host, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (search), rebels of the Justice and Equity Movement (search) said they would not sign the deal on access.

"The talks have collapsed already," Justice and Equity Movement delegate Ahmed Tugod Lissan said. "The president just intended to get us to sign the protocol. But for us it doesn't make sense."

Sudan's government blamed the rebels for the failure.

If they don't sign the humanitarian protocol, "then it's their responsibility that the talks collapsed," said Majzoub al-Khalifa Ahmad, one of the Sudanese government's top negotiators at the talks.

Ahmad said that despite the lack of success in Abuja, the Sudan government was ready to continue the talks at a future date. He said Khartoum will also continue working to improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur, including disarming the pro-government Janjaweed (search) militia.

"Disarming the Janjaweed is a continuous process. The rebels also need to be placed in safe areas because they're also attacking civilians. They're the same as the Janjaweed, there's no difference," Ahmad said.

The United Nations, the United States and others accuse Sudan's government of backing the Arab Janjaweed militia in a violent campaign that has killed tens of thousands of Darfur's non-Arab farmers and driven 1.2 million others from their homes.

The alleged campaign began after two rebel movements rose up in Darfur in February 2003.

The African Union convened the talks in Abuja's capital, on Aug. 23, as threat of international action against Sudan grew.

However, talks never got past early disagreement about timing of cantonment of rebel forces and disarmament of the Janjaweed.

The humanitarian access accord would have cleared the way for large-scale relief effort for Darfur's people and return of refugees. Lissan's group refused, insisting the Janjaweed disarm first and investigations begin into alleged war crimes by the militia.

Leaders of the other rebel movement, the Sudan Liberation Army (search), on Wednesday morning were meeting privately about whether their faction would sign the humanitarian accord, Lissan said.

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