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Nigeria Proposes Moving Darfur Peace Negotiators to Seclusion


Nigerian officials, hosting the sixth round of Darfur peace talks in the capital Abuja, have proposed moving the negotiators to a more remote location so they can better focus on striking a deal to end the 30-month civil war.

Nigerian officials propose the peace talks should take place near the remote farm of President Olusegun Obasanjo, in the southwestern town of Ota, rather than in the Sheraton hotel in Nigeria's capital.

The proposal to move the talks caught African Union, which brokers the talks, and the negotiators themselves by surprise, according to journalist Gilbert da Costa who was at the opening ceremony Thursday.

"That came quite as a surprise because people really never considered the setting of the talks particularly important," said Gilbert da Costa. "I tend to believe that this was an attempt by the Nigerian authorities to create a rather isolated environment for the participants to be able to concentrate fully on the peace process."

The proposal, Mr. da Costa says, is under review.

"At this point, it's not really been finalized yet," he said. "The mediators took pains to clarify that they were still working to clarify the details. It hasn't been agreed fully upon but there is a likelihood that the talks might shift to Ota in the coming days. Taking them to Ota could provide a far more conducive environment for them to proceed more effectively and faster with the peace process."

Several key members of the negotiating teams have yet to arrive, and AU mediators have given delegations until Sunday to resume talks.

Five previous rounds of the Darfur peace talks ended with a limited agreement to ease access for aid workers to the troubled region and a frequently broken cease-fire accord.

Ill-will over cease-fire violations and disarray in the ranks of the leading rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, have made the talks increasingly difficult.

The conflict between several rebel groups, government troops and pro-government militias in Darfur has claimed more than 180,000 lives and driven more than a million out of their homes.