S.Sudan government says Darfur talks unlikely before July

By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan, May 1 (Reuters) - Efforts to bring Darfur rebel groups to southern Sudan for peace talks with the Khartoum government could take up to three months, an official in charge of organising the possible negotiations said on Tuesday.

The semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, which emerged after a 2005 peace deal that ended 21 years of civil war with the north, has set up a "task force" to contact the rebel groups and bring them to talks in the south.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol told the BBC on Monday the government hoped to meet the rebels in May in Juba, where the southern government, headed by Salva Kiir, is based.

But the secretary of the "task force" Achier Deng Akol said his commission has yet to contact any group, adding it may take until July to bring them all together.

"The president (Kiir) expects us to implement our mission in a space of two to three months, so in July if all goes well," he told Reuters about the conference. He said funding was the biggest challenge facing his committee.

Only one main rebel group, a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, signed a 2006 peace deal with the government. The agreement, however, has failed to stop the violence in Darfur.

The United Nations says some 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million people displaced in Darfur since the conflict flared in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government, charging it with neglect.

Analysts say the fragmentations and divisions among the many Darfur rebel groups, along with the attacks of government forces have hindered the prospects of peace talks despite multiple initiatives by several parties, including neighbouring Eritrea.

The Sudanese armed forces vowed on Monday to "crush" an alliance of Darfur rebels for killing a pilot whose helicopter gunship, according to the army, had landed in north Darfur after a technical failure.

The rebels say they brought down the government aircraft while it was attacking their site during unity talks. The rebels said they have also captured another officer.

A delegation from one rebel group, a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, arrived in Juba without an invitation and discussed the new initiative with the southern government.

The SLM delegation said on Tuesday the initiative was positive but did not confirm the group would attend the talks.

The United States and Britain have threatened to bring unspecified United Nations sanctions against the central Sudanese government for rejecting the deployment of a large U.N. force to stop the violence in Sudan's remote western region.

But southern Sudanese government, dominated by the former rebel group Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), said on Tuesday mechanisms should be found to exempt the south and its booming oil industry from any possible sanctions.

"We only hope that the Government of Southern Sudan be exempted from sanctions ... we are not directly involved in what is happening (in Darfur)," said Martin Yak, the director of the office of the president of southern Sudan.

The economy of southern Sudan is dependent on oil revenues administered by the Khartoum-based government of national unity. The oil is exported through Port Sudan in the north.

"If it is blocked it affects the Government of Southern Sudan, so there must be a mechanism by which these sanctions are formed," Yak added.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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