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Sudanese Rebels May Not Attend Darfur Peace Talks - 2004-08-13

Nigeria says Sudan peace talks on Darfur, to be chaired by the African Union and Chad in Abuja, Nigeria, later this month, will go ahead as scheduled, despite reports from Sudanese rebel groups that they may not attend.

The Sudanese government says it is prepared to attend a new round of peace talks on the troubled Darfur region in Sudan that are scheduled to take place in Abuja on August 23. But the two main Sudanese rebel groups have been vague in their commitment to the talks.

The rebel faction, Movement for Justice and Equality, says it is prepared to restart talks with the Sudanese government, but that it may not be able to make it to Nigeria for the scheduled date.

The other rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, cited concerns over traveling during the rainy season as its reason for not attending. Both groups abandoned similar talks last month in Ethiopia, after the Sudanese government rejected their preconditions.

An analyst with Human Rights Watch, Leslie Lefkow, says the situation in the Darfur region is still deteriorating and that these new talks are crucial.

"To end the violence in Darfur, I think it is going to take talks that include all of the relevant parties," she said. "So, that is quite an important precondition."

She says there are already a number of agreements signed by the parties and that international pressure is mandatory to restore peace in Sudan, which the United Nations is describing as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

"We have the cease-fire agreement. We have other agreements that have been made, and I think what is going to be key is the monitoring and the scrutiny of the commitments that have been made," she added. "Without that, without real clear provisions for international monitoring of these commitments and the commitments made in Abuja, I would be dubious that there will be much change on the ground for civilians."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan commends the efforts of the African Union in response to the Sudan crisis.

"The rebels also have to know that they should go back to the table in good faith, and stay there to resolve the issue politically, and deal with the root causes," said Mr. Annan. "And they also should stay away from any violent action and attacks on all activities that would harm the humanitarian assistance. But I would hope that the international community would also provide assistance to the African Union. It is the only organization that sent in military monitors, military observers to ensure that the cease-fire is being kept. It is the only organization that has decided to send in troops, and Sudan has accepted that."

The two rebel groups led an uprising against the Sudanese government last year, and has accused the government of arming the Arab militia group, known as Janjaweed, to end the conflict. So far, more than 50,000 Sudanese are reported to have been killed in the conflict, and more than two million are in need of humanitarian aid.