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AU Struggles to Seal Peace Deal in Darfur


The task of urging holdout rebels to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement has fallen to the African Union, which brokered the deal in Abuja, Nigeria. It is a difficult job, and across the region, AU peacekeepers are working relentlessly to entice the rebels into accepting the Darfur deal.

Colonel Richard Lourens and his team of a dozen African Union troops and observers are flying deep into rebel-held territory.

This is not a combat mission. Instead, it is an attempt to coax holdout Darfuri rebels into accepting a peace agreement that they do not want.

Rebels from a holdout faction of the Sudan Liberation Army have agreed to meet Lourens outside of the tiny village of Debbus.

But the meeting begins poorly as the heavily armed rebels say they have decided that they don't want to speak to Lourens.

The colonel is clearly frustrated.

"I want them to understand that I am here to assist and I am here to help," he said. "And they must understand that there is a peace process going on. And I want to come and help them, but they must help me to help them."

These rebels are aligned with Abdel Wahid Moahmed Nur, a commander with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) who says the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement does not offer Darfuris enough.

Nur wants more compensation money for victims of this brutal war and a Darfuri vice president.

Since the signing of the accord, violence has intensified between supporters of Nur and Minni Minnawi, the SLA commander who did sign the agreement.

The rebels in this region call Minni Minnawi a traitor for accepting the peace deal.

Rebel Commander Ibrahim Abdallah is one of the first to air his concerns.

"This is not peace," he said. "Minni has no ground here, no civilians, no forces, nobody in Darfur. Minni has nothing in Darfur. What he signed is a peace agreement between him and the government. This is not for the Darfuri people. I am standing in front of you to tell the international community that they must know: our rights first and then peace later."

The Sudan Liberation Army split in November, with many rebels allying themselves with Minnawi. But Nur has retained immense popular support on the ground and these people think of him as a hero for refusing to accept the peace agreement.

The rebels tell Lourens they believe the African Union is conspiring with the Sudan government. They demand international intervention in Darfur.

Sudan is under intense pressure to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force to take over from the African Union, which has struggled with funding problems and a weak mandate.

But the nation has taken a hard-line position, comparing international intervention in Sudan to that in Iraq and Vietnam.

After deliberations, the rebels agree to lead Lourens to their village so that his team can inspect the humanitarian situation there.

A few hundred women and children have stayed in Debbus despite raids by militias known as janjaweed. The rebels are protecting them from the janjaweed.

It is clear that the people here will not accept the peace deal until the rebels do.

Kultuma Mohamed has lost four sons to the war, and says she will stay in Debbus despite the dangers.

"I won't go to the camps. I will stay here and die with my sons, the rebels," she said.

It is a difficult afternoon for Lourens, but he remains upbeat.

He hands out African Union caps to the men who inspect them before tugging them on. He gives candy to the children and cold drinks to the women.

By the end of the afternoon Lourens is optimistic and says he is certain the people here have come to understand that the African Union is here to help.

The rebels are not so sure. Ibrahim Abdallah told VOA, "We don't trust him yet."