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Sudanese Rebel Leader Demands Stability Before Negotiations

A leader with one of Darfur's biggest rebel groups says that attacks by government backed militias must cease before peace talks scheduled for later this month can take place. Nick Wadhams has the story for VOA from Nairobi.

The humanitarian coordinator of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, Suleiman Jammous, says forces allied with the Sudanese government attacked the town of Muhajeria on Monday and attacks in the region continue.

The town is a base for the SLA faction led by Minni Minawi, which signed a 2006 peace deal with the Sudanese government called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is also about 60 kilometers west of the town of Haskanita, which the United Nations says was razed in recent days after rebels killed 10 African Union peacekeepers nearby.

In a statement sent to the Reuters news agency, SLA leaders said a Sudanese army assault by both ground and air killed at least 40 people in Muhajeria. It said some of those killed may have been executed.

Jammous tells VOA that the recent violence jeopardizes peace talks set to begin on October 27 in Tripoli, Libya. He says the government has ignored the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and it is impossible to negotiate under such conditions.

"I think the international community needs some stability in Darfur to pull the rebels to peace talks," Jammous said. "The government is still targeting civilians, at least burning their villages, throwing them into bush, and I do not think the government is very keen to keep even the CPA. We need some time to defend ourselves then come back for peace talks in Libya or anywhere else."

Since 2003, an estimated 200,000 people have been killed, more than two-million others displaced and hundreds of villages have been destroyed in fighting in Darfur among government forces, militias and rebels.

There had been some hope of a resolution after rebels agreed to the talks and the United Nations agreed to quadruple the size of a 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force.

But Jammous has said that more than 100 people have been killed in Haskanita since the army occupied it in recent days.

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum called for all sides to end the violence, while the African Union has indicated that Sudanese government jets were used in the attack on Muhajeria. That would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution that prohibits such military action.