SUDAN: Darfur peace talks set for 27 October in Libya

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels on ending over four and a half years of conflict are to start on 27 October in Tripoli, Libya, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said.

"After consultations with the parties, chairperson of the AU [Africa Union] Alpha Konare and I have decided that the negotiations should begin in Libya on Saturday 27 October under the lead of the AU-UN special envoys who will continue to work in close coordination with the countries of the region," said Ban on 6 September.

He made the announcement after talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at the end of a five-day mission to Sudan, which included a trip to South Sudan and the war-ravaged Darfur region where Ban toured a camp for internally displaced persons.

"I hope and expect all parties to declare their serious commitment to cease all hostilities immediately, achieve a political solution to the Darfur crisis, create a secure environment in Darfur conducive to negotiations, participate in and commit to the outcome of the negotiation effort," Ban said.

Nur sets conditions for attending talks

The majority of Darfur’s rebel groups have agreed to participate in peace talks with the government, but one key rebel leader, Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur, founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), has set an array of conditions that he wants fulfilled before coming to the negotiating table.

Nur, who has few soldiers loyal to him but commands the support of the majority of the people in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), said he first wanted to see a strong UN force on the ground and the disarming of pro-government militias.

Ban urged Nur, who currently resides in Paris, to come and table his concerns.

"I know that he has a great influence in the peace process. I would strongly urge him to participate in the forthcoming peace negotiations," said the UN Secretary-General.

"I have discussed with many players, influential leaders to exercise their influence to convince him to participate," said Ban.

In August, Nur refused an invitation from the AU and the UN to take part in a gathering in Arusha in Tanzania aimed at getting the various rebel groups to agree on a common negotiating position with the government.

"It is very important that rather than protesting and complaining outside the framework of dialogue, it is better if everybody comes and addresses their concerns," Ban said. "This is going to be a crucially important negotiation forum for durable and permanent peace in Sudan."

The talks to be held in October are expected to complement a May 2006 peace agreement that was signed by only one of three negotiating rebel groups.

Sudanese minister urges all parties to attend talks

The two other groups, including Nur’s SLM, rejected the AU-brokered deal as imperfect, which encouraged the majority of Darfur’s IDPs to oppose it.

"We hope that all the parties will turn up to the talks so that we could have a final settlement," Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol said at a joint news conference with the UN Secretary-General.

Akol said Sudan was comfortable with both the timing and the venue of the peace talks. He added that mediators had considered some six countries as possible venues for the talks before settling on Libya.

"Out of the six, the Sudan government did not have any problems with any of them," said the foreign minister.

Increasing attacks on aid workers

Ban’s visit to Sudan came amid renewed violence in Darfur and reports of increasing attacks on aid workers.

"We have been concerned and frustrated by many cases of threatening humanitarian workers: hindering and harassing, sometimes kidnapping and threatening those people," the UN chief said.

There are almost 3,000 aid workers in Darfur assisting 4.2 million people in the world’s largest humanitarian operation. Some 12 humanitarian officials were killed across Darfur in 2006 and five since the beginning of this year, according to a recent UN report.

The number of humanitarian vehicles hijacked had reached 76 by mid-July, it said, adding that hijackings have become more brutal. Some 97 staff members were also temporarily abducted.

Ban tours camp

On 5 September, the Secretary-General toured Al Sallam camp near El-Fashir, capital of North Darfur State, to see firsthand the plight of the people there.

"I was shocked and humbled at the poverty and hardship and challenges they were undergoing," he said. "We must help them so that they will be able to return to their own homes and lands. It was very sad for me to see all those people suffering from lack of shelters, housing, sanitation and water."

The UN plans to deploy a joint UN-AU force of 26,000 troops and police to replace the under-funded and ill-equipped AU contingent that has failed to stop the violence raging on in the region.

Ban said he hoped deployment of the troops, coupled with peace talks and humanitarian assistance, would help improve conditions in the region.

"We are at a new beginning, let us seize this moment together," he said.

Source: IRIN