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Sudan peace talks falter, halt for a break

Peace talks between the government of Sudan and two rebel factions hit an impasse on Wednesday, failing to make way for humanitarian aid to some 1.2 million refugees displaced in the conflict.
Sudanese relief workers load a truck wit
Sudanese relief workers load a truck with supplies for some of the refugees displaced by civil war in Sudan on Wednesday. Access for aid workers had been at issue when peace talks broke down. Cris Bouroncle / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and two rebel factions from the troubled Darfur region hit an impasse, and the sides agreed to break for at least three weeks before resuming efforts, one rebel faction said Wednesday.

The break suggested by the African Union came after three weeks of unsuccessful talks between the government and rebels. The latest round tried to provide humanitarian access to an estimated 1.2 million refugees from Darfur’s conflict.

Also, the U.S. State Department said unspecified numbers of “American military personnel” are supporting AU military observers in Darfur. The statement was distributed by the U.S. Embassy in Senegal.

About 80 observers, supported by 300 soldiers from the 52-nation AU bloc, are deployed to monitor a largely failed April cease-fire. The United States and Europe have pushed African governments to take a lead role in any military action to stop the killing in Darfur.

The United States threatening penalties against Sudan’s fledgling oil industry to pressure the government to stop the violence and improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

The partial agreement on humanitarian access would have represented the one clear success from the internationally brokered talks.

But despite urging from the talks host, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, rebels of the Justice and Equity Movement said they would not sign the deal on access.

“The talks have collapsed already,” Justice and Equity Movement delegate Ahmed Tugod Lissan said. “The president just intended to get us to sign the protocol. But for us it doesn’t make sense.”

Sudan’s government blamed the rebels for the failure.

If they do not sign the humanitarian protocol, “then it’s their responsibility that the talks collapsed,” said Majzoub al-Khalifa Ahmad, one of the Sudanese government’s top negotiators at the talks.

Disarming Janjaweed in question
Despite the lack of success in Abuja, the Sudan government was ready to continue the talks at a future date, Ahmad said. Khartoum also will continue working to improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur, including disarming the pro-government Janjaweed militia, he said.

“Disarming the Janjaweed is a continuous process. The rebels also need to be placed in safe areas because they’re also attacking civilians. They’re the same as the Janjaweed, there’s no difference,” Ahmad said.

The United Nations, the United States and others accuse Sudan’s government of backing the Arab Janjaweed militia in a violent campaign that has killed tens of thousands of Darfur’s non-Arab farmers.

The alleged campaign began after two rebel movements rose up in Darfur in February 2003.

The African Union convened the talks in Abuja’s capital on Aug. 23 as the threat of international action against Sudan grew.

However, talks could not overcome early disagreement about the timing of cantonment of rebel forces and disarmament of the Janjaweed.

The humanitarian access accord would have cleared the way for a large-scale relief effort in Darfur and the return of refugees. Lissan’s group refused, insisting the Janjaweed disarm first and investigations begin into alleged war crimes by the militia.

Leaders of the other rebel movement, the Sudan Liberation Army, on Wednesday morning were meeting privately about whether their faction would sign the humanitarian accord, Lissan said.

The U.N. World Health Organization released a survey Monday showing between 6,000 and 10,000 people who have fled their homes in Darfur are dying every month. International aid agencies were estimating that at least 30,000 have died in the 19-month conflict but WHO put the figure at around 50,000.

The displaced are camped in 129 settlements across an area the size of France. More than 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad.