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Nigeria to Host Talks Between Sudan, Rebels on Darfur - 2004-08-08

The Africa Union says Nigeria will host talks this month between Sudan's government and rebels from the Darfur region, as Khartoum tries to avoid international sanctions.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo will mediate the talks, scheduled to begin August 23 in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, as part of his duties as the current chairman of the Africa Union.

Delegates from Sudan's government and from the two western Darfur rebel groups are due to take part.

Previous talks in July in Ethiopia failed when Sudan's government rejected rebel conditions for continuing the negotiations, including disarming the pro-government militias, known as Janjaweed.

The rebels, whose leaders are based in Eritrea, also said they didn't want the talks to take place in Ethiopia, which has tense relations with Eritrea and good ones with Sudan.

Nigerian President Obasanjo, who will host the new talks, has also said he is trying to get a larger African peacekeeping force into western Sudan, as well as more international aid.

"With what we have on the ground now, it appears we must have an additional force of protection," he said. "For that force, we will call on our development partners to help us in the area of logistics, and we are calling on the international community to help in the area of humanitarian supplies for Darfur."

The Sudanese government says the team of about 100 Africa Union cease-fire monitors is enough to ensure stability, saying foreign troops should be allowed to come in only if they are welcome by the entire population.

The United Nations Security Council has given the government in Khartoum 30 days to disarm the Arab Janjaweed militias, accused of uprooting more than one million African villagers, now living in worsening conditions in camps. But Sudan's government says it needs more time to disarm the militias.

It brought this appeal Sunday to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, trying to get help in avoiding the threat of U.N. sanctions, if it does not meet the deadline. It is also defending its opposition to the arrival of foreign peacekeepers, saying this would violate its territorial integrity.

The Darfur rebellion started in February 2003 with demands for an equal share of national development and protection of remote populations. This came after a 2002 accord between the government and southern rebels, allowing for an independence referendum in the south after a six-year period of autonomy.