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Darfur Sides Consult in Nigeria on New Talks

Sudan's Darfur warring parties are breaking away for internal consultation after being urged at the opening of negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria, to make more of an effort to reach a peace accord, in this the sixth round of talks.

African Union mediators have given the Sudanese government delegation and the two rebel groups extra time to prepare the effective start of negotiations, now scheduled for Sunday.

At the opening ceremony, this week, lead mediator Baba Gana Kingibe pleaded with the warring parties to make history. "I believe that the Sudanese parties who are represented here can best serve their own and their country by seriously and genuinely searching for a compromise solution," said Mr. Kingibe, "a solution comprehensive enough to enhance the legitimate aspirations of the people of Darfur and that of Sudan at large."

Darfur rebels took up arms in early 2003 over what they see as neglect and discrimination by the government.

An ambitious agenda for these talks has been set to discuss power and wealth sharing in Darfur as well as establishing new security forces.

Previous talks helped ease access for aid workers, which Sudanese government spokesman, Ibrahim Mohammed, says has already led to considerable improvements, even though rebels, known by their acronym JEM, think otherwise. "The humanitarian situation in Darfur has seen a remarkable improvement," said Mr. Mohammed. "Now Darfur does not witness any state of famine at this time, there is not any type of disease. That is because the humanitarian situation is much better than before. However, what has been said by the representatives of JEM, of course represent the views of these organizations, but it's clear that the views [are contradictory] with the views that are coming from the United Nations and the African Union."

Rebels also accuse government troops of repeatedly violating a cease-fire. They say African Union monitors on the ground are not doing enough to condemn these.

The spokesman for JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement, Bahar Abuganda, warned that even while the talks take place, full scale fighting could resume. "We are not entirely happy with the African Union," said Mr. Abuganda. "If we are provoked, we will go back to war, with short notice or none at all."

The other main rebel group has arrived at the talks without its main leaders, while a newly formed third group is not present at all, raising suspicion on the viability of the rebels as credible negotiators, according to Abuja journalist Gilbert da Costa.

"There are indication that there are deep tensions within the rebel groups and therefore that may not achieve the kind of peace that mediators are hoping for because there is always the likelihood that a breakaway faction may emerge at some point and challenge the peace process reached in Abuja," said Mr. da Costa. "So that really has been the huge shadow hanging over this whole process."

The civil war between rebels, government troops and pro-government militias has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, while creating a massive humanitarian catastrophe.