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Sudan: UN envoy warns that fresh fighting imperils Darfur peace talks

9 December 2004 On the eve of the a new phase of peace talks to resolve the conflict in war-torn Darfur, the senior United Nations envoy for Sudan warned today that they will fail unless Khartoum and rebel groups show restraint, voicing particular concern about a Government attack that has led to a fresh outbreak of fighting.

Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, said in a statement that the latest series of violent clashes breached both the agreed ceasefire and promises by both sides on humanitarian and security issues.

Negotiations sponsored by the African Union (AU) are due to resume tomorrow in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, in a bid to stop the 22-month conflict between Khartoum and two Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Mr. Pronk said he was especially concerned that Sudanese military forces had moved to clear what he called "lawless elements" from the roads around El Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur, without following recommendations from the UN and the AU to make sure their actions complied with earlier agreements signed by Khartoum.

The envoy said the military action led to a fresh eruption of fighting yesterday, when Government forces clashed with members of the SLM/A in the town of Thabit, about 50 kilometres southwest of El Fasher.

The UN Advance Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) said there were unconfirmed reports that Government helicopter gunships had bombed the area, as well as a separate village located 70 kilometres southeast of El Fasher. There is no information yet on the number of casualties.

AU ceasefire monitors also told UNAMIS that there has been renewed fighting between Government forces and members of both the SLA and JEM in South Darfur, about 50 kilometres southeast of the provincial capital Nyala.

The recent escalation of fighting prompted Secretary-General Kofi Annan to warn in his latest report on Darfur that chaos was looming as order is collapsing there. The conflict began in February 2003 when rebels took up arms in a protest over the distribution of economic resources in an impoverished region the size of France.

More than 1.8 million people have been displaced by the conflict or forced to live as refugees in neighbouring Chad, and a commission of inquiry sponsored by the UN is investigating whether genocide has occurred there.

Mr. Pronk said he hoped the talks starting tomorrow will produce a declaration of principles between the Government and the rebels that will allow them to start full political negotiations.



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