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Envoys Say Prospects Dim for Substantive Peace Talks on Darfur

Special United Nations and African Union envoys on Darfur say prospects for substantive peace talks aimed at ending the crisis in Sudan's conflict ridden province of Darfur are dim. The diplomats failed to get peace negotiations re-started during a two-day meeting in Geneva. Representatives from the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Sudan and its regional neighbors, the European Union, League of Arab States and other interested countries attended. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The special envoys call the meeting constructive, but they admit the diplomatic process is at an impasse.

The five-year war in Darfur between the Sudanese-backed Janjaweed Arab militia and African rebel groups has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced over two million people.

U.N. special envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, says it is unrealistic to expect substantive negotiations any time soon. So, he says it is crucial that the conflict does not escalate. He describes conditions in the camps in Darfur as tragic.

"The poverty is beyond description. The fear is physically palpable when you move there. The suffering of the population has gone on for so long now that if we have an escalation with this very small margin of survival for people in Darfur that we may have the risk of a catastrophic development," he said.

Participants at the meeting agree recent fighting between Sudan's army and former southern rebels in and around the oil-rich town of Abyei could be the flashpoint to re-ignite a war between the Muslim north and southern Christian and animist south.

African Union special envoy, Salim Ahmed Salim, says there is great concern that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending more than 20 years of civil war could fall apart.

"You cannot possibly consider, imagine a situation where you can have peace in Darfur if there is a collapse of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South. So, one of the things we have emphasized today is that there is an urgent need to put all the persuasion and pressure to bear to ensure that the CPA is implemented...At the same time, we also stressed the importance of stabilization of the Chad-Sudan borde," he said.

Sudan broke off diplomatic relations with Chad, blaming N'Djamena of supporting a recent rebel attack in the outskirts of the capital Khartoum. Salim says there can be no lasting solution to the crisis in Darfur unless these diplomatic fences are mended.

Another development, which might have negative repercussions on hopes for peace in Darfur is a renewed demand by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that Sudan turn over two men who face charges of crimes against humanity.

The Sudanese ambassador to the U.N. reacted angrily to this demand, accusing the prosecutor of destroying the peace process.

AU's Salim says it is important to balance conflicting needs. He says the issue of holding people who may have committed crimes accountable for their actions must be weighed against the compelling need to find a political solution to end the war in Darfur.