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Darfur rivals begin direct talks amid growing international irritation

10/5/2005 7:33am

OCHA/Jennifer Abrahamson

ABUJA, 4 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - After two weeks of peace talks and amid signs that world patience is running thin, rival parties in Sudan's Darfur conflict finally entered face-to-face negotiations this week on the key issues that need to be resolved before reaching a deal.

African Union (AU) chief mediator Salim Ahmed Salim brought delegates representing the Sudan government and Darfur's two main rebel groups together on Monday, saying continued violations of truce agreements in Sudan's western Darfur region were unacceptable at a time when peace seemed within reach.

"We cannot understand the rampant acts of banditry in Darfur, the killing of innocent civilians in Darfur, when the major protagonists are all here in Abuja," Salim said.

"Since we have a framework in Abuja for a negotiated settlement of the conflict, why should more innocent lives be lost in such senseless circumstances?" he queried.

The AU at the weekend accused Khartoum of launching attacks on civilian targets in the past two weeks in coordination with the pro-government Janjawid militia. The main rebel Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) was also blamed for two separate attacks in violation of existing agreements.

The AU's Peace and Security Council on Tuesday called for an emergency meeting, expected to take place on Wednesday, to address the worsening security situation in Darfur.

And in Abuja, where he was visiting for bilateral talks, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende warned that funding could fizzle failing a quick accord.

"The international community wants to see results, it cannot go on spending resources on problems which should already have been resolved and still can be resolved in the coming months," said Balkenende.

But at the negotiating table both the government and rebel delegations have expressed their readiness to work for peace.

Majzoub el-Khalifa, head of the Sudanese government delegation, said he expected the current sixth round of talks to be the crucial one to lead to peace.

"We are not satisfied with the delay so far because our people are suffering," he said.

Representatives for the SLA rebels and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement both said they too expected fruitful talks and called for good faith on all sides during the negotiations.

Key issues being negotiated include how to share power and economic resources and ensure lasting security in Darfur between the black African tribes in the region and the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The Darfur conflict pits Sudanese government troops and Arab militias against rebels fighting to end what they call the neglect and oppression of the inhabitants of Darfur, a semi-desert region the size of France.

Most of the Darfur residents are black Africans who say the Arab-dominated Khartoum government wants to chase them out of the country.

The US government has accused Khartoum of genocide.

The United Nations has described the situation in Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It estimates that at least 2.9 million people continue to be affected by the conflict of whom 1.85 million have been forced to flee their homes.

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