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US Diplomat Seeks to Unify Divided Darfur Rebels


Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has met with members of the largest rebel group in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region in an effort to form a unified negotiating position before the next round of peace talks with the Khartoum government. The meeting took place in Kenya, and the rebels appear to be significantly divided after a recent change in leadership.

The Sudan Liberation Army (SLM) appeared severely split during a recent conference when delegates from Darfur's largest rebel movement elected a new president, a move that ousted the historical leadership.

That division was on display in Nairobi when representatives of the new group initially refused to sit down with the old leadership at a conference called by Deputy Secretary Zoellick.

Eventually, those protesting the meeting joined the gathering, which was called by Mr. Zoellick in an effort to unify the rebels before a new round of peace talks with the Sudanese government.

A spokesman for the conference that elected the new leadership, Saif Haroun, says his group is dedicated to ending the bloody conflict in Darfur that has killed at least 180,000 people and forced two million to flee their homes.

"The conference says there is no more war anymore," said Saif Haroun. "Now we are going for the peace. That is why we arrange ourselves and we organize ourselves to work with the international community to help us to work for the peace process."

The new rebel president, Mani Arkko Minawi, did not attend the meeting with Mr. Zoellick, electing to stay in Darfur.

The former president, Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur, participated and reiterated his objections to the change in leadership.

Mr. Zoellick acknowledged the difficulty of bringing the rebel factions together when he briefed the media, following the meeting.

"Well, since the day started with the fact that I had a hard time getting them in the room together, I think there was some progress by getting them to listen to my combined message and to listen to those of our international partners," said Robert Zoellick.

After his meetings with the Darfur rebels, Mr. Zoellick is scheduled to talk Wednesday in Khartoum with top government officials.

Once again he will be urging cooperation in peace talks scheduled to resume later this month that are designed to end the conflict in Darfur, where the rebels have been fighting militias loyal to the Sudanese government.

On Thursday Mr. Zoellick is expected to visit the largest camp in Darfur, Kalma where nearly 90,000 displaced people are living after fleeing their villages to escape the violence.