Darfur rebels need more time for peace deal: mediators
KHARTOUM — The United Nations-African Union chief mediator in Darfur said on Sunday he is in favour of giving rebels more time to clinch a sound deal to end the civil war in the western Sudanese region.
Djibril Bassole made the remarks in an interview with AFP as he kicked off a four-day tour of Darfur to gather the views and support of civil society for a future peace deal.
He was accompanied by Qatar's minister of state for foreign affairs, Ahmad bin Abdullah al-Mahmud, whose country has been hosting for months peace talks between the Khartoum government and Darfur rebel groups.
"We have entered the final phase necessary to adopt a global peace agreement, well in any case a document, because I don't know if we will call it an 'agreement,'" Bassole said.
The talks on reaching a comprehensive agreement have been complicated by the presence in Darfur of three key rebel groups who have conflicting demands.
The Liberty and Justice Movement (LJM), which forms an alliance of splinter factions, signed a framework accord with Khartoum in March which established a ceasefire. The two sides began indirect talks on June 7.
But the much larger Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) did not join the talks, while the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) of Abdelwahid Nur, who lives in exile in France, has refused to take part in the process.
JEM signed a Doha framework accord in February that was hailed by the international community as a key step to bringing peace in Darfur, but the talks ran into trouble and a March 15 deadline passed without an accord.
"The LJM has negotiated but the agreement is not (exclusively) for the LJM," Bassole said.
"What is good for them is good for Darfur and the other factions."
Bassole said mediators are hoping to hammer out a broader agreement that would take into account the views of civilians displaced by the conflict and those of the JEM and the SLA.
"We want to broaden the base of the accord," the mediator said, adding he and the Qatari minister would visit camps for displaced people during their Darfur tour.
The pair plans to inform Darfur's people of the latest developments and seek "their views, contributions and particularly their adhesion" to the peace agreement, he said.
He said there is a raft of problems that need to be addressed.
"There are social, economic and political problems... and it the representatives of the civil society should be able to speak their mind," Bassole said.
The official conceded it would take longer to reach a solid agreement that would be approved by all rebel groups in order to prevent the outbreak of fresh fighting between them.
This week JEM suggested "reforms" to the Doha process, while the SLA's Nur held talks with members of his faction in Nairobi to prepare for a Paris conference where they could decide whether or not to participate in Qatar.
"It is perhaps better to take a bit longer in order to gather all the pieces," Bassole said. "Maybe we'll be lucky to see Abdelwahid (Nur) join us in Doha."
The Khartoum government would like to see an agreement reached before the end of the year and a January 9 referendum on the possible independence of southern Sudan.
Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died.