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Darfur Peace Talks Scheduled to Begin Monday - 2004-08-20


Delegates from the Sudanese government and rebel groups operating in the Darfur region of western Sudan are preparing to attend peace talks scheduled to open Monday in Nigeria. Both sides say they are going into the talks determined to reach peace. Next week's talks between the Sudanese government and rebel groups are billed as a last ditch attempt for African peacemakers to resolve the long-running conflict in Darfur, before the United Nations steps in August 29 with possible sanctions.

The African Union is hosting the talks, which will bring together officials from the government, Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, among others, to try to put an end to the war.

The African Union attempted to hold Darfur peace talks in Ethiopia last month, but the talks broke down because the Sudanese government would not accept preconditions laid down by the rebels.

The chairman of the Sudan Liberation Army, Abdolwahid Mohammed Ahmed al-Nur, says this time his rebel group is asking only that the government abide by what the parties had agreed to as part of a truce signed last April in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena. Chief among them is a call for the government to disarm the Janjaweed, an Arab militia that human rights groups say is behind the violence in Darfur, and has government support, which the government denies.

"We demand from them just to obey what they have signed in N'Djamena with us, neutralize Janjaweed, allow the international community to assist us to relieve our people in the ground freely without any objection, without any obstacle in front of them," he said.

Mr. al-Nur urges the government and the international community to end the conflict and to provide much-needed relief to those suffering because of the war.

An analyst with the International Crisis Group, David Mozersky, says he does not expect that the rebels will bring preconditions to this latest round of talks. He says the Janjaweed disarmament demand is, "legitimate."

"I don't think that there can be substantial progress on the political process, until the government begins to show that it is able or willing to implement its earlier commitments, and the key one in that category is the disarmament and neutralizing the Janjaweed," he said. "And they haven't done it, yet."

He says he is confident that the Sudanese government will not walk away from the talks this time, because it needs to show the international community that it is trying to bring peace to Darfur.

Repeated attempts to contact the responsible government officials in Khartoum for comment were unsuccessful, but a French news agency quoted government sources Friday as saying, their concern is to find a quick, peaceful solution to all the unresolved questions.

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