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Darfur: UN, AU envoys step up efforts to find common ground among rebels

15 November 2007 The United Nations and African Union Special Envoys tasked with spearheading the peace process in Darfur say they are stepping up efforts to press some of the larger groups of the war-torn region’s splintering rebel movements to find common ground ahead of scheduled direct peace talks with the Sudanese Government next month.

The UN’s Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim of the AU, speaking last night at Khartoum airport after returning from a visit to Asmara, the capital of neighbouring Eritrea, said they hoped that more rebels will attend the upcoming talks in Sirte, Libya.

Many of Darfur’s rebel groups, which have fragmented recently from three major groups into 16 or more separate factions, did not attend the opening round last month in Sirte that was designed to be the first step of a three-phase process to end the conflict.

Discussing the progress of the peace talks so far, Mr. Eliasson said that the envoys had wanted to start in greater glory with a lot more people present. But he added that there is now the beginning of a process, which has led to the series of consultations this month inside and outside Sudan with rebels to encourage them to participate.

Mr. Eliasson also stressed that he hoped the rebel movements realized the level of expectation among the people of Darfur and Sudan and from the international community that they must agree soon a common team and negotiating position for next month’s talks in Sirte.

In Asmara, the two envoys met with representatives of countries in the region – including Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki – to help in the peace process, and they said later that they were encouraged by those talks.

More than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 and another 2.2 million have been made homeless because of the fighting in Darfur between rebels, Government forces and allied militia known as the Janjaweed. A hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping mission known as UNAMID is slated to deploy at the start of next year to try to quell the widespread violence and humanitarian suffering.

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