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Mediators Seek Wider Participation in Darfur Talks

International mediators are trying to secure the participation of key rebel leaders for peace negotiations on the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, rebels are seeking to move the talks from Libya to another country.

U.N. and African Union mediators have sent a delegation from the site of the peace talks in Sirte, Libya to consult with rebel representatives in Darfur and the southern Sudanese capital of Juba . Negotiations were to begin October 27, but after several key groups declined to attend, mediators postponed the talks while they attempt to bring the rebels on board.

At a press conference Monday in New York, a spokesman for the U.N.-AU mediation team, Ahmed Fawzi, said he hoped the current consultations with rebel groups would be completed within four weeks. He also said that the rebels should, quote, "get their act together."

Suleiman Jamous, of the Sudan Liberation Army-Unity rebel faction, says his group is firmly committed to negotiation, but believes the talks would be more effective at a new location, such as Chad, closer to rebel bases in the field.

"Keeping them out of the field and keeping them in Juba or Tripoli, I do not advise that," Jamous said. "They should get the rebels to come in to the field and to negotiate with each other and to sit with each other and to make their own effort of unification. That would be better than keeping them out and trying to compel them to come to any kind of compromise."

Other rebels, including the Justice and Equality Movement, have said there are too many rebel factions. Monday, Reuters news agency quoted the Justice and Equality Movement's spokesman as saying his group would not participate in negotiations unless only two groups are present - his and a united delegation from the Sudan Liberation Army.

But the United Nations says there are at least 16 rebel groups and their unification is a major goal of the U.N. and AU consultations. It was also the focus of a rebel gathering in Juba in October.

Jamous says his group is working to unite the various rebel factions, but that if groups cannot be brought into a unified fold they should not be excluded from the talks.

"I think the reality on the ground is that there are other factions that should be addressed and should participate in the negotiations," Jamous said. "Any kind of trying to sideline someone will lead to another failure like happened in Abuja. It is better for the international community and the rebels to accept each other and to sit together and to unify themselves and to negotiate the matter of Darfur as one group. If this is not achieved we should accept anyone who says that I am also a rebel group, if they have troops on the ground. So we should not leave anyone out"

A previous peace deal in 2006 was signed by only one rebel faction, and consequently did little to stem the fighting. Since then, the number of factions has multiplied, becoming a major challenge for peace efforts.

A joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping force is scheduled to deploy to Darfur by January, and mediators hope they will have secured a peace deal for the troops to support by then.