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Sudanese Rebel Group Presses to be Included in Kenya Peace Talks - 2004-05-17

Rebel groups operating in the war-torn western Sudan region of Darfur are reported threatening to expand the conflict unless they are included in the Sudanese peace talks being held in Kenya.

The leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Abdel Wahed Mohammad Ahmad Nour, was quoted in the Arabic daily al-Hayat as saying his group would expand its fighting into the central Sudanese area of Kordofan, the capital, Khartoum, and areas in the east, if the group is not represented at the long-running Sudanese peace talks currently taking place in Kenya.

For more than a year, the Sudan Liberation Movement and another rebel group called the Justice and Equality Movement have been battling with the Sudanese army and Arab militias in Darfur, displacing an estimated one-million people.

The general commander of the Justice and Equality Movement, Abubker Hamid Nour, says his organization and the Sudan Liberation Movement are fighting for more economic and social development in Darfur and against racial and religious discrimination.

"Our goals is very clear: we want the unity of Sudan, we want democracy, we want freedom - politically and religion," he said.

The rebels held peace talks with the Sudanese government last month in Chad and signed a cease-fire, which they say the government has violated.

But the rebels argue they should be included in the larger peace talks between the Sudanese government and the country's main rebel group based in the south because, they say, all rebel groups are fighting for the same rights and share common problems.

After almost two years of negotiation in Naivasha, Kenya, the two sides say they have worked out how to share the country's wealth and are putting the final touches to power-sharing arrangements.

Abubker Hamid Nour says the people of Darfur and other areas of Sudan also want to work out wealth and power-sharing arrangements with the Sudanese government. He says the correct forum to do this is at the Naivasha talks.

"We are asking to join," said Mr. Nour. "If they want to solve the problem, we should be there, otherwise, still the big problem will be there. If they call us, we will join. If they did not call us, then we have our actions."

Abubker Hamid Nour says those actions include expanding the rebels' fighting to Khartoum and other areas of Sudan.

But the Kenyan mediator of the Sudanese peace talks, retired general Lazaro Sumbeiywo, says bringing the Darfur rebels into the talks at this point is not feasible.

"We already have gone very far in these negotiations," he said. "I think bringing in new issues would take another long, long time to clear them."

General Sumbeiywo says it was the African Union that set the parameters of the Sudanese talks about 10 years ago and gave them to negotiators. He says negotiators do not have the power to change the talks.