Darfur Rebels Shun Peace Deal

A Darfur rebel leader again rejected an African-drafted accord to resolve the crisis in western Sudan on Wednesday, just hours before the deadline for his and another holdout group to join it is set to expire.

Khalil Ibrahim, who heads the Justice and Equality Movement, told reporters in Ljubljana, Slovenia, that the peace deal "is not providing a fair share of resources and power."

"We want a fair peace agreement," he said after meeting Slovene President Janez Drnovsek, who has made a surprising mediation bid in the Darfur crisis.

CountryWatch: Sudan

Ibrahim insisted that amendments should be made to the accord, although he did not specify any changes, but still vowed that his group is "ready to continue negotiations and to cooperate with the international organizations."

"We are calling on the United Nations and the European Union not to close the door for peace in Darfur," he said.

Ibrahim denied some media reports saying a splinter fraction of his group is ready to sign the accord in Ethiopia.

"It has happened in the past already that the government was trying to fabricate our views," he said, adding: "Our organization is united and is not accepting the peace accord."

The African Union has set a deadline — which expires at 0000 GMT — for Ibrahim's and another holdout group to agree to a deal the Sudanese government and the largest rebel movement signed May 5 after protracted, AU-mediated talks in Nigeria.

Violence has only increased in Darfur since the signing of the peace treaty, drafted by the AU with last-minute amendments proposed by U.S., British and other mediators to meet rebel demands.

The peace pact was weakened because it was not embraced by all the rebel movements, and Darfur's numerous armed bands appear to be battling for strategic positions before the international community forces them to respect the cease-fire and disarmament called for under the accord.

Both the rebels and the Sudan government have repeatedly failed to live up to the agreements struck over two years of negotiations in Nigeria.

The holdouts to the May 5 pact expressed concerns it did not guarantee security and compensation for war victims.

Drnovsek expressed regrets that no deal was reached in Ljubljana and called on all sides to continue negotiating.

The Justice and Equality Movement is the smallest of three main Darfur rebel groups. It is linked to Sudan's leading fundamentalist Islamic ideologue Hassan Turabi, while the other rebel groups in the predominantly Muslim region are seen as secular.

More than 180,000 people have died because of fighting or related hunger and disease since rebel groups, made up of ethnic Africans, rose up against the Arab-led Khartoum government in 2003. The Sudanese government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the Janjaweed who have been accused of some of the war's worst atrocities. Khartoum denies backing the Janjaweed but agreed under the May 5 peace pact to rein them in.

Drnovsek has no track record as an international mediator, and appears to have adopted the Darfur crisis out of personal interest. He traveled to the United Nations' headquarters in New York last year to present his plan for Darfur, but no one engaged him officially as a mediator.