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Envoys to Darfur Still Optimistic Despite Latest Violence


Amid growing concern over continued violence in Sudan's Darfur region, top United Nations and African Union envoys to the region said Thursday they remain optimistic that a political solution to the crisis can be found. Noel King has this VOA report from Khartoum.

United Nations special envoy to Darfur Jan Eliasson and African Union special envoy Salim Ahmed Salim said their meetings this week with Sudan government officials and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement gave cause for optimism.

But observers say, despite promises made by both the government of Sudan and rebel factions, little evidence has been seen on the ground that either side is committed to a re-energized peace process.

The African Union reported just this week that Sudan government planes bombed two villages in north Darfur, in direct violation of two ceasefire agreements.

Sudan called the bombardment a defensive maneuver.

AU special envoy Salim stressed the need for a renewed political process in the region.

"There cannot be a military solution to the crisis in Darfur. I think that should be clear to everyone. The result is only suffering, death and destruction for the ordinary people," he said.

The peace process in Darfur has floundered since the signing of a peace accord between the government of Sudan and one faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement in May 2006.

Two other rebel factions refused to sign on to the deal, charging that it did not meet their demands of wealth and power-sharing.

The rebel movements later fragmented, and shifting alliances between rebel groups have resulted in chaos.

Attacks on humanitarian workers in Darfur peaked late last year, but the culprits remain largely unidentified, due to growing confusion over which groups are politically motivated rebels and which are mere bandits.

Critics charge that both Sudan and the rebels are now simply trying to deflect criticism from the international community.

AU envoy Salim called on the parties to back up their words with action.

"Consultation is essential, but consultation is not an endless process. And, we are going to operate with a sense of urgency. Because, if you say we will continue to consult and consult and consult, the more you take time, the more people die," he said.

Sudan has indicated that it may make changes to the Darfur Peace Agreement.

In particular, rebels charge that the government's offer of $30 million to some three million victims of the conflict is too low.

But neither the U.N. nor the AU envoy in their talks this week secured any firm commitment from government officials.

Predominantly African rebels in the region attacked government positions complaining that remote Darfur remained undeveloped due to neglect by Khartoum's powerful Islamist regime.

Sudan is charged with arming Arab militias known as janjaweed to conduct a savage campaign of rape and murder, targeting African villages.

Experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been made homeless in what the U.S. calls genocide.