Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sudan‘s Darfur peace talks adjourn to November

Staff and agencies
20 October, 2005

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA - The sixth round of African Union-mediated talks to end the Darfur conflict adjourned for a month on Thursday with mediators and delegates saying modest progress had been made.

The talks, which began on a sluggish note in the Nigerian capital Abuja in mid-September, were stymied by rebel disunity, growing violence in the western Sudanese region and deteriorating relations between Sudan and the AU.

Much of the negotiation centered on technical points rather than tangible issues of wealth and power-sharing needed to end the conflict, which started in early 2003 and has driven 2 million people from their homes to refugee in camps in the vast arid region and across the border in Chad.

Agreements were reached on human rights and fundamental freedoms and guidelines for power-sharing, while preliminary discussions were held on the federal system of governance, the delegates and mediators said in a joint statement.

They gave no details on the substance of the agreements. The seventh round of talks starts in Abuja on November 20.

"We are confident that even though modest progress was made during this session, the foundation had been laid to enable us to move forward on the substantive issues on the agenda for the power-sharing negotiations, during the next round," the statement said.

An agenda was also agreed for negotiations on wealth-sharing and informal consultations held on security arrangements and negotiations for a permanent ceasefire in Darfur.

While the two main rebel groups, the main Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), were negotiating peace in Abuja, splinter groups were blamed for attacks on the 6,000-strong force monitoring Darfur‘s shaky ceasefire agreement.

The SLA/M and JEM launched a rebellion against the Sudanese government more than 2-1/2 years ago, accusing Khartoum of neglect and political and economic domination.

The United Nations says Khartoum responded by arming Arab militia accused of a widespread campaign of rape, killing and burning in non-Arab villages.

U.N. officials have said a recent surge in violence has hindered vital aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees and restricted the movement of many of the 11,000 humanitarian workers in the remote region.

"The security situation in Darfur is not improving -- thousands of people still face threats of horrific violence every day," said Nikki Bennett from British aid agency Oxfam.

"Humanitarian agencies are increasingly being targeted by banditry and looting incidents," she said.

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