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International Mediators Meet on Darfur in Asmara

U.N. and AU mediators met with representatives of Sudan's neighbors in the Eritrean capital Asmara to discuss the way forward on peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region. Derek Kilner has this report for VOA from Nairobi.

The U.N. envoy for the Darfur peace process, Jan Eliasson and his counterpart in the African Union, Salim Ahmed Salim, were in Asmara to discuss the conflict with representatives of Sudan's neighbors, including Chad, Libya, Egypt and Eritrea.

Peace talks convened by the United Nations and African Union in Sirte, Libya in late October were quickly put on hold due to the absence of several key rebel factions. U.N. and AU representatives held meetings with rebel groups in the Southern Sudanese capital, Juba, last week.

Mediators are hoping to unify the positions of the many rebel factions and encourage them to join the Libya talks when they resume in early December.

That effort showed its first signs of progress on Tuesday, when six factions of the Sudan Liberation Army announced their unification. According to a rebel quoted by the Reuters news agency, the group includes the faction headed by Ahmed Abdel Shafie.

But Timothy Othieno, a researcher with South Africa's Institute for Global Dialogue cautions that the group does not include the two most influential leaders of the Sudan Liberation Army.

"The two major groupings are out," said Timothy Othieno. "And that is the SLA-Unity faction led by Abdallah Yahia, which was supposedly responsible for the Haskanita atrocities on the AU troops; and most importantly, the SLA founder Abdul Wahid Nur, who has not taken part in any negotiation or reconciliation conference."

Othieno says that Yahia's faction, whose delegates have returned to the field to discuss their position towards the unification efforts, might be persuaded to join the new group. But he says it will be much more difficult to persuade al-Nur, to attend the peace talks.

"He wants certain guarantees on the table before there can begin any negotiation," he said. "And these include issues of representation, issues of de-marginalization of utilizing the resources of Darfur for the region and so on and so forth."

While al-Nur, who is currently living in Paris, does not command troops on the ground, he is seen as widely influential among the Darfur population, particularly in camps for the displaced.

In addition to Yahia and al-Nur, the Justice and Equality Movement, led by Khalil Ibrahim, has also boycotted the peace talks, saying too many minor factions are involved. They have said the talks should involve only their group and one delegation from the SLA.

Rebel groups have also been calling for the talks to be moved from Libya to another location.

The conflict in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced an additional 2.5 million since 2003.