U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General Jan Pronk says peace talks underway in Abuja, Nigeria, between rebels from Sudan's western Darfur region and the Sudanese government, may result in a peace deal by year's end.  Earlier in the week, another U.N. envoy, Juan Mendez, said that rape, looting, and lawlessness persist in the troubled region.

U.N. Special Representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, says he is optimistic about peace talks between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government.  But Mr. Pronk admitted that a peace deal may not end the violence, due to a splintering of rebel factions and the continued presence of Arab militias known as Janjaweed.

"I think it is still possible to have a peace agreement," said Mr. Pronk.  "It is not a minute possibility.  It is a very concrete possibility.  Again, the talks in Abuja are not bad at the moment.  It is going to the right direction.  They are not divided in Abuja.  The situation is much better than people are saying.  It is not lost."

But Mr. Pronk said an end to hostility in the region will be hindered by rebel factions and bandits, who are not present at the talks.  The United Nations has reported a recent rise in banditry in the region.

"Parties who are not at the negotiation table in Abuja will not see very quickly a reason to stop fighting if there will be a peace agreement," he added.  "We are aiming at a peace agreement between the government and JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] and SLM [Sudan Liberation Movement].  That is Abuja.  The bandits are not there.  Possible splits of SLM are not there.  The militia are not there, Janjaweed are not there.  I never said the peace agreement is a final thing."

Mr. Pronk added that a recent U.N. policy meeting in Darfur had been disrupted by Sudanese national security forces.  He called the disruption a flagrant violation, of the relationship between the U.N. and Sudan.  Several Sudanese participants were arrested and later released.  Mr. Pronk said he plans to raise a complaint to the Sudanese government and the U.N. Security Council.

The two-and-one-half-year conflict in Darfur began when rebels rose against the northern government.  Government-backed Arab militias called Janjaweed incited a scorched-earth campaign in which an estimated 200,000 people have died and two million more have been displaced due to fighting.