LAGOS, Nigeria, June 8, 2005 (AP) -- The two main rebel movements in Sudan's Darfur region said Wednesday they had little hope upcoming peace talks could succeed without more peacekeepers being sent to protect civilians.
The Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Army rebel groups are due to meet with Sudan's government on Friday for a third round of African Union-brokered talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
Peace accords signed so far have failed to end violence in Darfur, where more than 180,000 have died since an armed rebellion began in February, 2003.
Sudanese officials have said the government was determined to resolve the Darfur crisis this time around. But they also have expressed concern an announcement this week that the International Criminal Court had begun investigating alleged war crimes in Darfur could be seen as anti-government and prompt the rebels to harden their positions going into the peace talks.
Sudan on Wednesday reiterated it would not hand any of its subjects over for trial outside the country.
In Sudan Wednesday, visiting African Union commissioner Alpha Oumar Konare said Darfur was calm following an AU appeal on the eve of the talks. Konare also called on the parties meeting in Abuja to keep in mind their responsibility toward civilians.
The truce comes after rising tension between the two rebel groups exploded into a clash over territory in recent days. The 53-member African Union says the coming talks will also try to end the fighting among rebels, united in their opposition to the government but divided over their vision of the region's future.
African Union plans to boost its 2,270 Darfur peacekeeping force with another 5,000 troops have been bogged down by logistical problems and a lack of support in the region, which is the size of France.
The last talks ended in November last year with a government promise to ban "hostile" military flights over Darfur, but rights groups say fresh bombing raids were launched on Darfur during and after the talks. Sudan's government is also accused of intimidating international aid workers.
"We think that if there is not a bigger peacekeeping force and if there's no clear mandate from the U.N. Security Council to take action ... we cannot say stability will take root," said Abdul Latif, a Sudan Liberation Army delegate for the talks, by telephone from London.
Justice and Equality Movement spokesman Ahmed Hussain Adam echoed the call for more peacekeepers, saying "it is the international community's obligation, not just the African Union."
Disagreement between NATO and the European Union over which organization should coordinate the airlift of extra African Union peacekeepers has been hampering plans to boost the force.
Officials said they were trying to resolve their differences before a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday. Deployment would become much more difficult once the rainy season starts in July.
The United States says NATO's military planners are the best placed to do the work, but France wants the EU to take charge.
Human Rights Watch researcher Leslie Lefkow said growing lawlessness, together with rebel divisions stoked by ethnic and clan rivalries, are making the search for peace more difficult.
Although there has been no major government offensive since January, attacks on refugees -- including the rape of women and young girls leaving camps to collect firewood -- continue, said Lefkow. She said the attackers were camel-backed Janjaweed militia fighters and increasingly prevalent gangs of armed bandits.
The conflict in Darfur began when mainly ethnic African rebels launched a February 2003 uprising. Sudan's Arab-dominated government and pro-government Arab tribal fighters are accused of launching coordinated attacks on ethnic African farmers in retaliation. Sudan denies targeting civilians or allying with the so-called Janjaweed militia.