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Darfur Rebels Hesitant on Peace Deal

Two-year peace talks to end the violence in Sudan's western Darfur region are expected to close Sunday, the deadline set by the U.N. and African Union. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja that a deal may not be reached in time.

Negotiators in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, are making last-minute efforts to meet the April 30th deadline for a deal to end the three-year-old conflict in Darfur.

The African Union presented an 85-page final peace agreement to representatives of the Sudan government and the two rebel groups Wednesday at the Abuja talks.

While the Sudan government has accepted the document in principle, the two rebel groups are hesitant. Ibrahim Nyam is the spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the two rebel factions participating in the Abuja talks.

"What is being put on the table, so far, I can say the majority of the people still believe that it has not met the demands of the people of Darfur, and they are not ready to sign it as it is being presented now," Nyam says. "If there is any modification, of course, we are ready to look at it positively."

The African Union insists on the April 30 deadline, and will not consider a review of its proposal. A.U. spokesman Mezni Nourredine says this is decision time.

"We are not ready to re-open any negotiation," he says. "We can facilitate, if the parties agree on some specific changes on the document, with the full agreement of all the parties. Otherwise, really we are not going to re-negotiate the document. We have been negotiating with the parties for the past six months. Now, the time of decision has come, and we think that the ball is in the court of the parties. The government said they are ready. Now it is up movements to take the right decision."

The rebels are not ruling out the possibility that a deal could still be reached in the next few hours, but Nyam says a time limit for negotiations is misplaced.

"Peace should not be tied with time. Peace is (more) precious than time," Nyam says. "We need to meet the time, which is being addressed and made by the African Peace and Security Council, but also do not let us forget the importance of making peace, because, if we do not want to spend some time here to make some modifications, we may need more time to build up another peace process."

The A.U. deal includes a section on power sharing, but the highest position allocated to a Darfurian is senior presidential adviser. The rebels insist on the vice president slot.

The African Union has been mediating the talks for nearly two years. Fighting in Darfur has left about 200-thousand people dead and forced millions out of their homes.