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SUDAN: Darfur peace talks now extend to four locations

NAIROBI, 19 November 2007 (IRIN) - The UN and African Union (AU) mediated Darfur peace talks have spread beyond the Libyan town of Sirte in efforts to get all key groups on board, according to a UN official.

"Although we cannot as yet set the exact time for full-blown negotiations, meetings are now ongoing in Sirte [the original venue of the talks] as well as in Darfur, Khartoum and Juba," George Ola Davies, spokesman of the UN-AU Joint Mediation Support Team, told IRIN.

The peace talks opened on 27 October in Libya with only eight of the Darfur rebel groups taking part. The meetings in Juba and Darfur aimed to bring the factions boycotting Sirte into the process.

News reports on 18 November quoted Salim Ahmed Salim, the AU envoy for Darfur, as saying that the Sirte talks may not restart in December without the involvement of the key rebel factions.

Davies said the chief negotiators - Sam Ibok of the AU and Taye-Brook Zerihoun of the UN - would be in Juba on 19 November for talks with representatives of Darfur rebel groups that have been holding their own meetings in the capital of Southern Sudan.

"The chief negotiators will be in Darfur on Wednesday and Thursday [21-22 November] for similar meetings," Davies said. "I can say the talks are progressing at a pace of continuity."

The UN envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, would brief the UN Security Council on the talks the following week, he added.

Armed resistance in Darfur has claimed at least 200,000 lives since 2003 and displaced more than two million civilians, who are now living as refugees in neighbouring countries or in camps in the region.

The rebel factions boycotting the talks include the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), led by Khalil Ibrahim, and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), led by Abdul Wahid, who political observers say is popular with many Darfuris on the ground.

Wahid has said he would only consider joining the talks after the planned deployment of a 26,000-strong AU-UN peacekeeping force (known as UNAMID) in Darfur in January 2008.

Analysts have raised concerns that UNAMID faces a number of obstacles, including a lack of support from the Sudanese government and key donors.

In an October report titled How to get the UN/AU Hybrid Force Deployed to Darfur, John Prendergast, Colin Thomas-Jensen, and Julia Spiegel of the Enough Project (a joint initiative of the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress), said: "The difficulties that are compromising UNAMID's prospects remind us that progress on peacekeeping and on the political process for a durable settlement must occur in parallel, and must both receive continuous international attention."

They added: "A swift and fully supported deployment is critical to providing protection for vulnerable civilians, bolstering the peace process and showing Khartoum that it cannot give the international community the run around."



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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