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Darfur Peace Talks Progressing Slowly

The Sudanese government and two rebel groups have continued negotiations to resolve the Darfur conflict in western Sudan. The parties have made slow progress on a declaration of principles that will be the basis for peace talks.

A Chadian delegation arrived late Tuesday in Nigeria's capital Abuja, to participate in the Darfur peace talks. But one of the rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, rejected Chadian involvement in the mediation process, saying the country sides with the Khartoum government.

The Sudanese Foreign Minister Osman Ismail also warned African Union mediators that the government delegation will walk out of the talks if the African Union allows Eritrea to take part. The Sudanese government accuses Eritrea of helping rebels.

Analyst Anoushka Marashlian says that the problem has been resolved, and the Chadian delegation will not play a large part in negotiations.

"Their objections have been recognized, and those two countries have been advised to take what can be called a back seat in negotiations in the talks. So that has injected greater optimism in the talks and heightened the chances that they will produce results at the end of the day," she said.

Chad is housing 200,000 refugees from Darfur, and hosted several rounds of peace talks between Sudan and the two rebel groups before Nigerian president and current Africa Union chairman Olusegun Obasanjo took over in August.

A further controversial point is the Sudanese government's objection to perpetrators of crimes being tried by the International Criminal Court. Ms. Marashlian believes that the government will eventually agree to the international court's authority.

"There is an increasing recognition that they want to resolve the Darfur issue and they can no longer hide behind the walls of sovereignty and so on, and ensure that perpetrators of very serious crimes, torture or rape or murder are held accountable in front of an international court," she said.

Violence between the two rebel groups and Arab militias known as the Janjaweed has killed about 180,000 people in Darfur during the past two years. The government denies that it supports the Janjaweed militias who are accused of torture, rape, and the massacre of civilians.

About 2,000 African Union peacekeepers are trying to monitor a truce in the region. The African Union plans to send more than 5,000 more troops to Darfur, with the help of NATO, to maintain the cease-fire and protect civilians.

An Africa analyst from the Global Securities risk analysis company, Olly Owen, says the African Union needs a stronger mandate to keep the peace.

"It is not a huge number of peacekeepers that are being deployed there," he said. "I think probably a more important issue than the numbers is actually the kind of mandate under which they're operating. As you know they are extremely constrained to kind of an observing role and there is a lot of talk of beefing up their mandate."

Mr. Owen says that it is unlikely that the Sudanese government will agree to an increased peacekeeper role, and Darfur is a test to the doctrine of African solutions to African problems.