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PRESS CONFERENCE BY SPECIAL ENVOY FOR DARFUR ON PEACE TALKS IN LIBYA

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

24 October 2007

The peace talks about to open in Libya on Saturday, 27 October, aimed to bring together the parties to the conflict in Darfur and provide an opportunity for negotiations in one centralized location, Jan Eliasson, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Darfur, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Speaking via videoconference from the Eritrean capital of Asmara, where he is conducting a pre-meeting participation drive with Salim Ahmed Salim, his African Union counterpart, Mr. Eliasson said not all the parties were expected to attend the talks in Sirte, Libya, and there were indications that some were not ready. “But I want to very much make the point that the consultations they are carrying out now in Juba, and perhaps elsewhere, will, of course, also continue in Sirte.”

He said the meeting was expected to open on Saturday and the various Darfur rebel movements would have plenty of time to talk, but negotiations would start only after all parties were fully prepared. But a date was needed for turning the tide and breaking the vicious cycle in Darfur. The meeting date of 27 October had been set by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairman of the African Union Commission, on the basis of agreements made with the movements at the August talks in Arusha that the talks would be held at the end of October. Invitations had gone out the week before and it was to be hoped that the movements, which had been working in Juba, would realize that their attendance would be in the best interests of their people.

The Special Envoy said he had met with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea while in Asmara, and in Khartoum, with the Sudan’s chief meeting negotiator, Nafi Ali Nafi. Overall, the Sirte meeting was the result of consultations held over 10 months with rebel movements, the Government of the Sudan and representatives of civil society and countries in the region, not least Eritrea, Libya, Chad and Egypt.

He said the plan now was to open the meeting on Saturday afternoon, hold a “general debate” at the foreign ministerial level on Sunday and achieve an agreement on a cessation of hostilities by the commitment of at least one party. Topics would then be addressed according to their degree of urgency and complexity, with the issues of compensation and security being taken up quickly. Other questions, such as power-sharing, would take longer to work out since they dealt with governance issues.

In response to a question, he said the main objective was to bring “on track” those involved with the crux of the conflict: the need for people to return to their land, which was now occupied by people who did not own it. Only “band-aid” measures had been applied to the situation in Darfur so far, and the Sirte talks represented the moment of truth. Of course, some wanted them to fail.

Responding to another question, he conceded that the situation on the ground was worrying, given the tragic events of the past month and the unrest in the camps, where people had been living for more than four years and teenagers were becoming radicalized due to frustration. There were also tensions inside the Sudanese Government with problems between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party over the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that had ended the civil war between North and South. In addition, the Darfur rebel movements, including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), had splintered and influential SLM Chairman Abdul Wahid’s resistance to participating in the peace process was as strong as ever.

But the Sirte talks must succeed to avoid a dangerous situation, Mr. Eliasson said. To that end, the Government was facilitating the participation of civil society and its willingness to do so was the most encouraging aspect of the talks about to open. It was still too early to tell how many parties would take part, but new participants were still being picked up amid political uncertainties, the reluctance of people in camps to attend and logistical challenges such as the processing of Government permits.

In response to a question about lowered expectations for the outcome of the talks, given all the uncertainties about attendance, the Special Envoy said the opportunity offered by the talks was also the occasion for a “reality update”.

Asked about the role of Libya in the talks, he said that country was hosting the event but in substance it was on the same level as the Sudan’s other neighbours -- Chad, Egypt and Eritrea. Their involvement was pivotal because borders set up by colonial Powers did not always reflect the realities of cross-border tribal relations.

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For information media • not an official record



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