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Darfur Rebels to Resume Peace Talks - 2004-07-22


Two rebel groups from Sudan's western Darfur province say they will resume peace negotiations they broke off with the Sudanese government a few days ago. The agreement to resume negotiations was concluded during crisis talks held at the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

Representatives from the African Union, Chad and the United Nations attended the one-day meeting. They came to try to persuade the two rebel groups that dialogue was the only way to achieve peace in their war-torn area.

At the end of the closed-door session, African Union chief mediator Hamid Algabid said the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement had agreed to continue consultations with the Sudanese government in Khartoum immediately.

However, he acknowledged that the problems, which precipitated the rebel walkout have not been resolved. The rebels abruptly broke off talks after the Sudanese government refused to demilitarize the so-called Janjaweed Arab militia, and to discuss an exchange of prisoners as preconditions for negotiations.

A spokesman for the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Andy Andrea, confirmed that the parties want to keep the peace process going.

"The two sides have shown commitment, and what we do hope is that they follow through with that commitment, and that the innocent people of Darfur that are caught up in the fighting, that their lives can be improved and that we are not too late,"said Andy Andrea.

The United Nations calls Darfur the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe. An estimated 30,000 people have been killed and more than one million have been internally displaced, since war broke out between the rebels and government-backed militia. In addition, about 200,000 Sudanese have fled to neighboring Chad.

At a news conference earlier in the day, the U.N.'s top human rights official, Louise Arbour, expressed her concern over the events unfolding in Darfur. She said outside intervention may be necessary, if the government is unable to protect its own people.

"The urgency of the matter is such that we can only welcome the fact that there are many who are exploring many options with the consciousness of how quickly operational they may need to be," she said. "Now, whether they will need to be, that is not for me to speculate."

Ms. Arbour said she has sent two human rights monitors to Darfur, and six more will follow shortly.