ABUJA, 8 December (IRIN) - Negotiations to end Sudan's Darfur conflict have hit new snags in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, after rebels set out new conditions for peace, including a demand for the vice presidency.
Rebels said their demands were "the minimum which Darfurians should have," Ahmed Hussein, spokesman for the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said on Wednesday.
In addition to the vice presidency, the rebels want Darfur's borders returned to what they were at independence in 1956 to encompass Karal al-Thoum, Al-A'Troon and Wa'hat al-Sharafi, areas were incorporated into northern Sudan by Khartoum in the 1990s.
"These areas were cut out without consulting the people of Darfur and the institutions representing them," said Hussein.
Hopes had been high of a major breakthrough at the seventh round of peace talks in Abuja, as it is the first time the two rebel groups have presented a joint position.
The SLM/A and the JEM's new demands have been jointly submitted to African Union (AU) mediators.
The Sudanese government delegation declined to respond to the rebel demands and called for talks to be broken down into small informal committees "in the hope that we can narrow the gap," spokesman Umar Rahama said.
AU spokesman Nourredinne Mezni said mediators were studying the rebel submissions in the hope of working out a compromise.
More than a year of negotiations between rebels and the Sudanese government have failed to yield an acceptable settlement to fighting that has killed more than 180,000 people and forced some 2 million people from their homes.
The conflict pits Sudanese government troops and Arab militias against rebels fighting to end what they call the neglect and oppression of the black African inhabitants of Darfur. The UN has described the situation in Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Acknowledging that little progress has been made at the talks, which resumed on 29 November, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) announced on Tuesday that top UN envoy in the country Jan Pronk will travel to Abuja in the coming days.
Pronk will aim to boost "the ongoing negotiations process, which does not seem to progress as expeditiously as hoped, in order to reach an agreement by the end of this year," UNMIS said in a communique.
The situation in Darfur has been turbulent over the past week. UNMIS has reported incidents of banditry, looting, inter-tribal fighting, alleged clashes between the SLM/A and tribal groups, as well as harassment, threats and beatings of UN and NGO staff.
Pronk is scheduled to make a tour of UN deployments in southern Sudan before flying into Abuja on Sunday.