Sudan: Senior UN officials head to Nigeria for peace talks on Darfur

Senior United Nations officials are on their way to Nigeria's capital to take part in resumed peace talks between the Sudanese Government and the rebel groups from Sudan's western Darfur region, a UN spokesman said today.

"The Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, his Principal Deputy, Taye Zerihoun, and other senior officials of the UN mission will head tomorrow to Abuja, Nigeria. They will attend the talks between the Government of Sudan and the two rebel groups of Darfur, which are scheduled to start on Friday," Stephane Dujarric told journalists today at UN Headquarters.

The talks come in the wake of last month's donor's conference co-hosted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, which yielded nearly $300 million in pledges to scale up the AU's peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

At the same time, negotiations between the hostile parties has been stalled for six months, culminating in the past week in what Mr. Pronk called "serious violations of the N'Djamena Ceasefire Agreement" between the rebel groups - the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which Mr. Pronk heads, reported security-related incidents during the past week in Darfur and in southern and eastern Sudan as the international community and the AU tried to assist all the parties achieve a breakthrough at Abuja.

Earlier this week, Mr. Pronk discussed preparations for Abuja - especially the representation of the rebel groups - with Salim Ahmed Salim, the AU's chief negotiator at the talks and the former Secretary General of the AU's predecessor organization, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Mr. Dujarric said.

Meanwhile, the UN mission said at its weekly news briefing that the second Crude Mortality Survey in Darfur, conducted by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the Sudan Ministry of Health, had started.

The interviews and data processing should be completed by the end of this month, UNMIS said.