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Sudanese Rebels Boycott Darfur Peace Talks to Mourn Civilian Deaths - 2004-08-28

The two main Sudanese rebel groups say they are boycotting peace talks under way in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for 24 hours to mourn the deaths of civilians killed in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Members of the two main rebel factions, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, walked out of the peace talks Saturday, as they were about to resume for the fifth day.

A statement issued by the group claims that the pro-government Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, and Sudanese government forces had set fire to a village in the western Darfur region of Sudan. They say fighting over the past three days has led to the deaths of dozens of civilians.

The groups say they will take a 24-hour break from the talks to give them time to mourn the loss of their fellow citizens.

The African Union chairman and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is hosting the talks to try to help end the violence between the rebel factions and the Janjaweed that has been taking place for more than 18 months. So far, little progress has been made.

A London-based African analyst, Alex Vines, says he is not surprised that the talks are running into so many roadblocks.

"I think people understand that Sudan is a tremendously difficult nut to crack. I mean, the United Nations, the United States, Western powers have all tried and failed in Sudan, too," he said.

Mr. Vines says the United Nations should impose the harshest sanctions on the Sudanese government, if it wants to end the crisis.

The United Nations issued a report after visiting the troubled region, saying the Sudanese government has not done enough to curb the violence and rein in the Janjaweed militia.

The U.N. Security Council will meet in New York to determine what if any measures will be taken against the government in Khartoum.