© Derk Segaar/IRIN
SLM/A rebels in Fienna village, Jebel Marra, South Darfur in July 2005.
NAIROBI, 21 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - African Union (AU) and United States mediators are trying to reconcile the divided leadership of the largest rebel group in Darfur ahead of the resumption of the peace talks later this week, an AU official said.
The leaders of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) are under pressure to resolve their internal differences and present a united front at the next session of the delayed peace negotiations in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, which had been scheduled to start on 21 November.
"There has been a slight delay of the opening session due to logistical reasons, but the first delegations will start arriving today," African Union spokesman Noureddine Mezni told IRIN on Monday.
The delay, Mezni explained, was a result of the large number of delegations - parties to the talks as well as international mediators and observers - that had to come from many different and often remote locations.
"The talks will start later this week," he added. "The date of the opening session will be announced shortly."
On Friday, the head of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, met with SLM/A’s factional leader Minni Arko Minnawi in Muhajeria in South Darfur.
Kingibe stressed that there could be no meaningful negotiations on the future of Darfur without the effective participation of the SLM/A and its leadership, according to an AU statement released on Sunday.
Growing rifts between both political leaders and military commanders as well as between Zaghawa and Fur factions of the SLM/A have led to a breakdown in the movement's command structure and contributed to the deadlock in the Abuja talks.
Kingibe urged Minnawi to cooperate with the international community in their efforts to assist the SLM/A leadership overcome their differences.
Friday's meeting was followed by a closed-door reconciliation session on Saturday in the capital of North Darfur State, El Fasher, facilitated by the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Jendayi Frazer.
Kingibe, US special envoy for Darfur Roger Winter, and other top US and AU officials attended Friday's meeting, which brought together the two factional leaders of the SLM/A, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur and Minnawi.
Although no breakthrough was achieved, the two SLM/A leaders agreed to attend and participate in the scheduled seventh round of the Abuja peace talks, which had previously been boycotted by Minnawi.
Further efforts needed to be made, however, to bridge the gap between the two leaders to enable effective participation of the SLM/A in the upcoming peace talks, the AU statement noted.
Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reported that Sudanese troops and rebels clashed on Saturday in the mountainous Jebel Moon area in western Darfur, resulting in the reported death of 14 civilians and eight insurgents.
Sudanese forces said they had attacked Chadian rebels who had crossed the border, but the National Movement for Reform and Development, a small Darfur rebel group, instead claimed government forces were attacking them.
A UN report, published on Friday, reported that 62 members of the other big rebel group in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement, died in the past week during a series of attacks on villages in South Darfur that also involved SLM/A forces and armed tribesmen.
Over 10,000 internally displaced persons, mainly from the Massalit tribe, had sought refuge at Gereida as a result of the fighting. The report also said 23 members of Arab militias died in clashes over cattle between militia members in West Darfur.
The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003 when the two main rebel groups, the SLM/A and the JEM took up arms to fight what they called the discrimination and oppression of the region by the Sudanese government. The government is accused of unleashing militia - known as the Janjawid - on civilians in an attempt to quash the rebellion.
Some 3.3 million people continue to be affected by the conflict, according to the UN, of whom 1.8 million are internally displaced and 200,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad.