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Sudan's President Says All Parties to Darfur Conflict Must Join October Talks

15 September 2007

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir says his government wants the upcoming United Nations-backed peace talks on Darfur to be definitive. He says pressure must be applied by the international community so all parties to the conflict participate in the talks, and measures should be taken against those who refuse to sign a deal. Sabina Castelfranco interviewed the Sudanese president in Rome for the VOA.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir told the VOA that his government will cease fire at the start of U.N.-backed peace talks in Libya October 27. He said he expects rebel and opposition groups attending the talks to do the same.

Mr. Bashir said he hopes all the parties to the Darfur conflict will join the talks, to be held in Libya. He said that during his three-day visit to Rome, he appealed to Italy's prime minister and to Pope Benedict XVI to pressure those who refuse to attend the negotiations, especially rebels who are in Europe and specifically in France.

Mr. Bashir also said he wants to see fair and punitive measures applied against parties that refuse to sign a deal at the end of the talks.

Mr. Bashir said that following the Abuja peace agreement of 2006 between the Khartoum government and the largest Darfur rebel group, those who participated in the talks made commitments to take measures against those who refused to sign. But, he says, pressure was applied only on Sudan's government. The Sudanese president says there are a number of groups who do not want peace in his country.

In the four-year conflict in western Sudan, the Khartoum government has been accused of supporting ethnic Arab militias called Janjaweed who have carried out what the U.S. has called a campaign of genocide against the people of Darfur. The Janjaweed have also been accused of attacks on humanitarian workers trying to alleviate the suffering of the population. Mr. Bashir, who came to power in 1989 in a military and Islamic coup, rejected the charges.

He said these are fabrications by circles hostile to the government. The president added that all the non-governmental organizations working in Darfur are aware that attacks on humanitarian convoys are carried out by non-signatories to the Abuja agreement and also by what he called "bandits."

Speaking in Paris, Abdul Wahid El Nur, a top leader of the popular rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army, rejected the Libya talks and expressed skepticism about the government's truce offer. Nur says his movement wants to see the U.N. deployed in Darfur and the Janjaweed disarmed before it agrees to negotiations.

In the interview, Mr. Bashir called the problem in Darfur environmental and said it has led to a scarcity of resources. He said this has been recognized by U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon. He said that if the issue of Darfur's development is tackled, the root causes of the conflict will be eliminated.

In the four years of conflict in Darfur, more than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million have fled their homes.

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