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Rebel Support for Darfur Negotiations Wanes After AU Attack


A rebel faction in Sudan's troubled Darfur region is accusing the Khartoum government of responsibility for a weekend attack that killed 10 African Union peacekeepers. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, the attack could crush hopes that peace talks between the rebels and the government will take place as planned later this month.

Various Darfur rebel groups are scheduled to begin talks with the government on October 27, but the attack on peacekeepers - and the subsequent accusations of blame by various rebel groups - will complicate preparations.

Nouri Abdalla, the spokesman for one faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement in Kampala, Uganda, says his group believes the government orchestrated the attack to slow the deployment of a joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Khartoum was reluctant to agree to the force, which would nearly quadruple the size of the 7,000 member African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. It has been undermanned and largely ineffective.

Abdalla says that the attack, as well as many other incidents of violence in Darfur recently, make it impossible for the rebels to meet with the government on October 27 as planned.

"We know that the government of Sudan has always been against the deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping forces," said Abdalla. "So basically they are trying to find a way to block the deployment even thought they have agreed to it. Because this is another thing something that the government of Sudan always does they agree to something and they back off from it. So basically we do not believe that October 27 is the right date."

Other reports from the African Union and the Khartoum government have indicated that it was an alliance between two rebel groups that was responsible for the attack. The Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army's Unity faction have forces in the area of the attack, Haskanita.

"It is impossible to say the government is responsible, the responsibility will be the two sides and now the investigation is underway to determine which side to hold fully responsible," said Yahia Bolad, another rebel faction spokesman, based in London. "There is fighting between the Justice And Equality movement and also the Unity faction of Mini Minnawi with the Sudanese government and its militias in that area."

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 and has killed about 200,000 people and displaced more than two million. Analysts and the rebels had expressed hope for a resolution in August, when various rebel factions met in Arusha, Tanzania, and agreed to a common stance ahead of peace talks with Khartoum.

But with the attack, which several rebel factions condemned, there are now fears that the rebels will split even further, raising the specter of a possible deadlock at the upcoming talks.