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Geneva Mediation Center Tries to Revive Darfur Talks - 2004-07-22

Representatives from Darfur's two rebel groups and the African Union are meeting in an effort to restart peace talks, which collapsed over the weekend. The meeting is being hosted by the Geneva-based conflict mediation organization, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

The meeting is taking place behind closed doors. Center for Humanitarian Dialogue spokesman Andy Andrea says this will be the first time the African Union, which is leading the Darfur peace process, will be meeting with leaders of the two rebel groups since they walked out of talks with the Sudanese government in Addis Ababa.

"It is the first opportunity for the leadership of the rebel groups to engage with them in discussions on the modalities of the peace talks,? Mr. Andrea said. ?Hopefully what we will be able to do is have clear indication from all sides involved in this meeting about how the talks can be more effective in the future."

The two rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, stopped negotiations after the government in Khartoum rejected six preconditions for continuing the dialogue. They included demands for the government to disarm the Janjaweed Arab militia and to prosecute those suspected of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Representatives of the government of Chad and the United Nations also are attending these crisis talks. But, nobody from the Sudanese government is present.

Mr. Andrea says the government's participation is not necessary at this point because this meeting is purely about re-engaging the rebels in future peace talks. He says conflict mediation or conflict resolution is a long process and is unlikely to be achieved after only three meetings.

"It is an important meeting,? he said. ?But, it is as important as all the others that have been taking place. As you know, there was a meeting in N'Djamena in Chad where the two sides met and agreed on a cease-fire and then there was a meeting that took place in Addis where, again led by the African Union, where the two sides agreed to a monitoring process. And, now this one is kind of one of those in-between meetings and it is to ensure greater efficiency of any of future ones that might take place."

The United Nations describes the conflict in Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe. Since war broke out between the rebels and the Sudanese-backed Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed more than a year ago, an estimated 30,000 people have been killed. Another 200,000 Sudanese have fled to neighboring Chad.