Tuesday, July 20, 2004

African Union tries to revive failed Darfur talks

The African Union (AU) says it has made fresh contact with the government of Sudan and Darfur rebels in an effort to revive peace talks that broke down over the weekend.

Talks collapsed after rebels set six preconditions for dialogue, including the disarming of Janjaweed Arab militias and prosecution of those suspected of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur. The rebels walked out after the government rejected the demands.

"We will try and meet with them separately in an effort to revive the talks," the African Union's (AU) Darfur envoy Hamid Algabid told a news conference late on Monday night. We are now in contact with both the rebels and the government of Sudan. We have planned to meet both of them separately, probably by the end of this week."

The government is facing increasing international pressure over the bloodshed, which the United Nations says has displaced more than one million people and killed as many as 30,000. The rebels, and international human rights groups, accuse Khartoum of arming the Janjaweed to loot and burn African villages in a campaign of ethnic cleansing, and report mass killings and rapes.

The government denies the charges. Mr Algabid steered last week's failed effort to end the 18-month-old conflict and humanitarian crisis in the west of Africa's biggest country. He did not say where the further meetings would take place, but AU sources said they could be in Geneva. Mr Algabid said mediators would meet the two sides separately.

The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel groups attended the talks mediated by the AU at its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital last week, but did not meet Sudan government delegates face-to-face. The government team said it would talk about the rebel demands but rejected them as preconditions for talks. The JEM and SLA launched a revolt in February 2003 in the west of the oil-producing country after long conflict between African villagers and Arab nomads.

Villagers fleeing the conflict are threatened with hunger and disease in squalid camps inside Sudan and over the border in Chad. Pressure has grown on the Sudanese government from the West and the United Nations to help avert even greater disaster. "The international community has reacted late in Darfur but at least they do talk about it now," Amnesty International researcher Benedicte Goderiaux said in an interview in Beirut on Tuesday. Of course the humanitarian situation is dire so the priority is to feed people before they die of famine. But human rights issues and violence against women... we want to try to keep these issues high up on the agenda. "The UShttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif are making strong declarations. But what's being proposed is a travel ban against the Janjaweed, an arms embargo on the Janjaweed. There should be an arms embargo on the Sudan government," she said.

According to a ruling by a Sudanese court, 10 Arab militiamen have been sentenced to amputation and six years in jail in the first conviction of Janjaweed fighters for looting and killing. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan will determine if Sudan has lived up to its promises upon the return of Jan Pronk, his envoy for Darfur, who briefs the Security Council on Wednesday.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch on Monday showed reporters translations of Sudanese government documents apparently showing clear support for the Janjaweed. "We can no longer trust Khartoum to police itself when Khartoum is part of a large problem," Mr Roth told a news conference. "It's like the fox guarding the chicken coop."

By In Solidarity 20 July 04


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