Sudanese Darfur rebels block aid pact for refugees
The rebels' reluctance to sign the so-called humanitarian protocol on the second day of peace talks in the Nigerian capital of Abuja brought the two sides back to the sticking point that caused talks last month to end in deadlock.
"We've told the rebels that for them to be seen as blocking the signature of the humanitarian protocol is not very good," said a European Union diplomat.
If signed, the aid deal would be the first meaningful agreement in three rounds of talks that began in July.
On paper it would give aid workers full access to the area, which is the size of France, commit both sides to preventing attacks on civilians and allow refugees to return home.
The United Nations says humanitarian workers have had better access to desert refugee camps along the border of Sudan and Chad in recent months, but the refugees still face a food crisis worse than the famines of the 1980s and 1990s.
Nearly half the population of Darfur is short of food and one young child in five is malnourished, the U.N. World Food Program said.
In Washington, the biggest alliance of U.S.-based international aid groups, InterAction, urged President George W. Bush on to do more to help Darfur, where an estimated 70,000 people have died.
Rebels say the humanitarian protocol would be pointless without a deal on security, including disarming the Janjaweed, an Arab militia that has driven mostly African farmers from their homes in a campaign of rape, looting and burning that the United States has called genocide.
"Humanitarian and security issues are interlinked. We can sign the two protocols together," said Ahmed Hussain Adam, a spokesman for the JEM rebel group, one of two at the talks.
Two rebel groups launched their revolt in western Sudan in early 2003 after years of skirmishes over land. They want political and economic reforms and say the government is arming the Janjaweed to crush them, a charge Khartoum denies.
The U.N. Security Council in July passed a resolution calling on the government to disarm the Janjaweed and investigate human rights abuses.
Another resolution last month urged both sides to sign a humanitarian accord and work toward a security pact.
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to conduct its business in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Nov. 18 and 19 in an effort to end a long-running war between Khartoum and rebels in southern Sudan.
The rare overseas session is also intended to give momentum in solving the crisis in Darfur and will include discussions with the African Union (AU) and other negotiators involved with Somalia.
At a meeting with African Union mediators on Tuesday, the Sudanese government demanded that rebels be contained in restricted areas and monitored under any security agreement.
The African Union chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has previously suggested that AU troops be used to disarm rebels while the government disarms its militia.
The European Union agreed on Tuesday to spend another 80 million euros to fund the deployment of 3,000 African Union troops, starting this week, to monitor a shaky cease-fire.
Analysts at the talks said the rebels had stalled on the humanitarian deal believing worsening conditions in refugee camps in the vast region would pile pressure on the government to concede ground over issues such as disarmament.
"The rebels should not take the international community for granted. They think they have all the international sympathies, but if they are seen as the ones who are stalling they will have to pay a price," the European diplomat said.
The top U.N. envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, said he was encouraged that talks were addressing so many issues at once, and he hoped for a broad political agreement between the warring parties by the end of the year.
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