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Mounting Darfur violence threatens talks, AU warns

2/7/2006 7:29am

ABUJA, 6 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - Mounting violence in Sudan’s Darfur region is undermining talks taking place in the Nigerian capital to end the three-year conflict, according to the African Union (AU).

Salim Ahmed Salim, the AU’s special envoy on Sudan and the chief negotiator at the Abuja talks, said on Sunday that more than a year of talks between the Sudan government and the two rebel groups fighting in the region were being jeopardised by the situation on the ground.

“We cannot talk and wage war at the same time,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

He said all sides were increasingly resorting to military attacks in contravention of existing ceasefire agreements, impeding the distribution of humanitarian aid to millions of people in need.

“Each month since October has been worse than the last in terms of increased fighting and some restrictions on humanitarian operations,” Salim told reporters in Abuja.

Salim said the latest fact-finding report of the AU Commission found all parties in the Darfur conflict guilty of the violations.

“What we see is a list of ceasefire agreements and humanitarian protocols, which are violated everyday,” the AU negotiator said. “The wanton violations serve no political purpose and only punish and frighten innocent people. No side gains advantage and all are marred by it.”

The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when two rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) took up arms against Khartoum to end what they call the neglect and oppression of the mainly black inhabitants of Darfur, a semi-desert region the size of France. The Sudanese government responded by backing Arab militias known as the Janjawid.

Humanitarian workers estimate that more than 180,000 people have been killed and nearly two million forced to flee their homes because of the bloodshed.

Mediators accuse both sides of a lack of flexibility in the negotiations and of not showing adequate concern for civilians caught up in the war and faced with hunger and disease.

The talks that began in Abuja in August 2004 have been delayed variously by the intransigence of the parties or internal splits in the rebel movements.

Last week, AU mediators expelled three JEM delegates from the peace table after they allegedly attacked and battered two other members in a hotel room over a disagreement.

So far, the 15 months of talks in Nigeria have made little progress beyond a fragile ceasefire, frequently broken by all sides.

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