Sudan

Sudan: Darfur secure, parties ready for talks-AU

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KHARTOUM, June 8 (Reuters) - African Union forces have used the months since the last Darfur peace talks to provide security on the ground, leaving the warring parties free to focus on fresh negotiations, the head of the AU said on Wednesday.

Alpha Oumar Konare, AU Commission chairman, said after a brief visit to Sudan and a meeting with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, all sides have an obligation to attend peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Friday.

"It would be criminal today to not go to Abuja and to continue the conflict which is hitting Darfur right now," he told reporters in Khartoum airport.

"The better security situation on the ground will comfort those at the negotiating table and leave them to focus on the negotiations, which is an essential element," he added.

The previous round of talks in December collapsed in part because of a government offensive, which it said was to clear the roads of bandits. The clashes severely weakened rebel positions on the ground.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting in Darfur and more than 2 million have fled their homes to squalid camps within the vast region the size of France since a rebel uprising began in February 2003.

Three previous rounds of talks in Abuja have failed to break an impasse.

Konare said the AU had assurances the parties would attend the next round of talks, although some delegates may be late.

"We hope that all the parties to the talks will be serious without losing any time, because the population of Darfur pays the price of the time we lose," Konare said.

In its first such referral, the U.N. Security Council in March asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate suspected war crimes in Sudan's west.

The ICC formally launched its probe on Monday, which the government says is poor timing as it sends a wrong signal to the rebels.

Konare declined to comment on the ICC probe. But he said: "For us, impunity cannot exist, from any side whether it be the government or the rebels. ... This is a clear principle for us."

Konare said he hoped this round of talks would be final and help support the new coalition government to be formed in July, after a separate peace deal with former southern rebels which ended more than two decades of civil war there.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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