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Darfur Mediators Meet With Sudan's Neighbors in Egypt


Representatives from Sudan's neighbors met with international mediators in Egypt to discuss the conflict in the Darfur region of Western Sudan. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

The U.N. mediator for the Darfur conflict, Jan Eliasson, and his African Union counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, are in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for discussions with representatives of Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya.

AU and U.N. sponsored peace talks began in Libya in late October, but were quickly put on hold after several major rebel groups refused to attend.

During the past month, mediators have been attempting to unite the many Darfur rebel factions and encourage key leaders to attend future talks.

Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya are all seen as important to the peace process due to the influence they wield with rebel factions or the government in Khartoum.

Chad and Sudan have long sponsored and hosted rebel groups operating in each other's territory, though fewer rebels remain in Chad since the government signed a deal with Khartoum in May. Eritrea has also given support to rebels and has recently attempted to form coalitions between rebel groups.

A researcher with South Africa's Institute for Global Dialogue, Timothy Othieno, says pressure from Chad and Eritrea is essential for rebel cooperation.

"These rebel groups do not stand on their own accord. They are supported financially and militarily by nation-states. And I think the onus is on the AU and the U.N. to deal with those nation states. You need to speak to the particular backers of these rebel groups in order to get a consensus," he said. "Once you deal with the nation-states I think that dealing with the rebel groups will not be a problem, because you are dealing with the supply lines and the lifelines of these particular rebel groups."

Libya and Egypt, which are actively involved in mediation efforts, are seen by many rebel groups as being too close to the government in Khartoum. Libya is hosting the current round of peace negotiations, but many rebel groups have called for the location to be moved.

Egypt has peacekeepers in Darfur as part of the AU mission and has pledged additional troops to the upcoming U.N. force, despite opposition from some rebels.

U.N. officials have said recently their mission is behind schedule. They expect at most 9,000 of the 26,000 troops to be deployed by January 1.

The United Nations has had difficulty obtaining equipment, including helicopters, for the mission. Additionally, the Sudanese government has been demanding that new conditions be placed on the U.N. troops, including not conducting any flights at night and providing advance notice of troop movements.

The conflict in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people since 2003 and displaced an additional 2.5 million.

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