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Darfur Rebels Adamant as Another Deadline Looms

Western and African diplomats are racing against time to strike a deal that will end what has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur. The prospect of an agreement appears slim.

With a Thursday night deadline fast approaching, Darfur rebels insist they will not sign the proposed agreement.

Senior diplomats from the United States, Canada, Britain, Libya and African Union officials have held several meetings with representatives of the Sudan government and the two main rebel factions.

Chief Mediator Ahmed Tugod for the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the two rebel groups, says despite the intense consultations in the past few days nothing substantial has changed.

"If they refuse to reopen negotiations, I think unfortunately that will be the end of this round of the talks," he said. "Because the movements will not accept that document by all means and that means there is no way to move and no way to sign that document. So it is better to move and to go back home without wasting time and resources."

The United States, in particular, has been very visible at this critical stage of the process. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick is leading the American delegation which has been trying very hard to nail down an elusive agreement.

"Clearly, you have a situation where the African Union played a mediatory role. They produced a text that was a good text and a basis for discussion," said Richard Mills, a spokesman for the American delegation. "The government agreed to that and the movements did not. So we are clearly in a situation where we are trying to work and think about ways to bridge the differences, bring people together. And that is going to involve compromises and that is what we are working on. We need to remain focused that the real goal of this is to achieve a peace agreement that benefits the people of Darfur."

The rebels have a history of infighting, making it difficult for them to agree on any major decision.

The talks, in their seventh round, have dragged for two years while violence in Darfur has worsened.

There are fears that the violence could grow into a full-blown regional conflict if a deal is not reached in Abuja.