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Darfur failure could lead to regional war
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May 5, 2006 - 11:31:00 AM

PM - Darfur failure could lead to regional war

[This is the print version of story]

PM - Thursday, 4 May , 2006  18:34:00

Reporter: Zoe Daniel

MARK COLVIN: Senior negotiators are warning that the failure of peace talks to stop the conflict in Sudan's Western region of Darfur could lead to a regional war. The deadline for a peace agreement has been extended twice this week and now expires tonight.

High level US, British and African diplomats are desperately trying to convince rebel groups to sign the deal which the Sudanese Government has already agreed to. They fear that the failure of the negotiations would lead to a worse conflict than ever in the region.

Africa Correspondent Zoe Daniel reports.

ZOE DANIEL: Two years, seven rounds and two extensions have led the parties to the Darfur conflict to the brink of a deal.

After six failed rounds of talks, no one really expected these negotiations to bring peace but now there seems to be a realisation that this is the end of the peace process and there must be a decision.

Alex de Waal is an advisor to the African Union.

ALEX DE WAAL: It is beginning to dawn on them that really this time the deadline is for real. This is the 11th hour or the D-Day if you like.

These talks have been on and off for two years without really substantial progress while people continue to die in Darfur, and at some point this has to end and the time when it's coming to an end is right now.

ZOE DANIEL: The Sudanese Government has agreed to the peace plan, which would disarm the pro-government Janjaweed militias, inject money into the much neglected region and integrate rebel forces into the Government Army.

But the Government's agreement has, if anything, merely raised the suspicions of the fragmented rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement.

They want security in Darfur guaranteed, a regional government and Sudan's vice presidency.

Having said that, Alex de Waal says that rejecting a peace deal would be a huge loss of face for rebel groups, particularly if it worsens the situation on the ground.

ALEX DE WAAL: The cost of failure would undoubtedly be a major increase in violence, a major new escalation. And with crises unfolding in neighbouring countries we have a real prospect of the situation running out of control and being much worse than anything we've seen before.

ZOE DANIEL: As the Darfur peace talks continue, counting has begun after a presidential election in neighbouring Chad.

Chad recently closed its border with Sudan, accusing the Sudanese Government of supporting Chadian rebels who want to depose President Idriss Deby.

He will win the election because it's been boycotted by opposition parties. If there's no Darfur peace deal, he may then step in to openly support the Darfur rebels in their war against the Sudanese government in Khartoum. That could be the beginning of a large scale regional conflict.

Richard Cornwell, Africa analyst at the Institute of Security Studies.

RICHARD CORNWELL: If he comes now to say, I will support the JEM and the SLA, the rebel movements in Darfur, then it may actually harden their resolve at the peace talks.

ZOE DANIEL: Is it possible that they are holding out with that in the back of their minds?

RICHARD CORNWELL: I think it's one of many considerations in the back of their minds. One of the others is of course whether the international community will come in strongly enough as guarantors of whatever is agreed by Khartoum.

ZOE DANIEL: Top level Western diplomats are exerting international pressure on the rebels to sign the deal despite their reservations. There's a sense that an agreement, however flimsy, would at least be a start on the long process to peace on the ground in Darfur where people are hungry, desperate and afraid.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has just visited the area.

LOUISE ARBOUR: I think the space for humanitarian work has been reduced in part by fewer contributions by the donor community and I think also in part by legislation in the Sudan that restricts the ability of NGOs, local and international NGOs, to deliver humanitarian assistance.

ZOE DANIEL: It's likely a peace deal would allow the Sudanese Government to approve international forces to keep the peace, without losing face.

The Government is now saying it may be prepared to make further concessions to reach an agreement.

This is Zoe Daniel reporting for PM.

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