Sudan

Sudan: Darfur peace process at a 'crossroads,' UN envoy says

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The fragile peace process in Darfur is at a "crossroads," the United Nations Special Envoy for the strife-torn region said today, as he and his counterpart from the African Union (AU) wrapped up their third joint visit to Sudan.

Serious obstacles to the political process - including the dire humanitarian situation, the persistence of tribal clashes and unrest in camps - still exist, Jan Eliasson told reporters at the Khartoum headquarters of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

"We have talked very much about peacekeeping, an indispensable part of the process towards peace in Darfur, but we all must remember there has to be a peace to keep," he said.

In order to capitalize on the momentum, the efforts of all sides must unite since "there is a risk that the parties will turn to various alternatives," Mr. Eliasson said. "But if we have convergence now and move the negotiations process in a convergent framework, then we will be able to seriously prepare for negotiations."

The AU's Salim Ahmed Salim echoed Mr. Eliasson's sentiments. Saying that he is conscious of the role played by such countries as Eritrea, Libya, Egypt and Chad, Mr. Salim said that "the question of common position or platform on the part of the movement is extremely crucial to facilitate a speedy and effective process of negotiations."

Mr. Salim stressed the significance of the relationship between Chad and Sudan in bringing peace to Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others forced to flee their homes since 2003.

"We firmly believe that without the normalization of these relations, without the improvement of these relations, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve a breakthrough in the Darfur peace process," he noted, welcoming recent initiatives to bolster their relationship.

One of the main objectives of the visit, Mr. Salim said, was to hold internal talks to assess the current situation and to map out the next phase. "We have had intensive discussions on this and we are now, at least as the Special Envoys, quite clear on the way forward and how to bring about the process, how to bring the negotiations, and how to initiate the various steps before the negotiations," he stated.

The two envoys have submitted their road map for the future of the peace process to their principals - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, and will wait for their responses before proceeding.

Since arriving in Sudan on Tuesday, the two envoys have held a series of meetings with the UN/AU Joint Mediation Support Team to discuss the next steps to spur the peace process.

They also met with Government authorities, including First Vice-President and President of the Government of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir to discuss the initiative of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a former rebel group in the south, to help reinvigorate peace talks.

Today, Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Salim held talks with Presidential Advisor Majzoub Al Khalifa and with diplomats in the capital.

Mr. Eliasson is scheduled to brief the Security Council in New York next week.