Sudan: Six Darfur rebel factions to boycott peace talks

By Opheera McDoom

JUBA, Sudan, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A prominent Darfur rebel figure and five other smaller factions will not attend peace talks due to start this weekend in Libya, leaders said on Tuesday, casting doubt on prospects for a settlement.

Ahmed Abdel Shafie told reporters at a Darfur rebel meeting in south Sudan's capital Juba that African Union and United Nations mediators had not heeded rebel requests for a delay to allow them to form a united position and agree on a delegation.

"I was really shocked when people here are talking about unity and the United Nations started distributing invitations," he said.

"It's ... a matter of sabotaging the process of unity," he said, adding unity talks were going well with more factions joining but more time was needed to complete negotiations.

Without all rebel groups present at the talks which begin in Sirte on Saturday, hopes for a ceasefire look slim.

Mediators had hoped as many rebels as possible would go to negotiate a comprehensive ceasefire in Darfur as a first step towards resolving the conflict.

Since a peace deal signed by only one of three rebel negotiating factions last year, the insurgents have split into more than a dozen groups.

Around 70 rebel delegates are in Juba for talks intended to produce a unified delegation. Lounging under umbrellas in the gardens of the Home And Away cafe to the plangent tones of U.S. Country & Western music, some wore pristine suits while others sported camouflage mesh head wraps and khaki uniforms.

Esam al-Hajj, another SLM rebel figure in Juba, said five other factions from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) would also not be going to the talks.

"Six factions ... and field commanders ... have agreed not to participate in the current negotiations," he said.

Added to SLM founder and popular leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur's earlier refusal to attend the Libya talks, this would mean no rebels representing Darfur's largest tribe, the Fur, will be negotiating with Khartoum in Sirte.

International experts estimate 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in 4-1/2 years of violence, but Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.

Abdel Shafie also said African Union and United Nations mediators had taken key decisions without consulting the rebels. They objected to the choice of Libya, a country which has been directly involved in the conflict, as the venue for the talks.

"We have a lot of reservations actually about the mediation," he said. On Libya, he said: "The people of Darfur feel ... that the neutrality is not there."

He said it could take at least a month before the rebels were ready to attend peace talks.

Hajj said another worry was the withdrawal this month of the former southern Sudanese rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), from the national coalition government.

"The government at the moment is not the legal government," he said.

The SPLM has a 28 percent share of government but suspended its ministers, saying the dominant northern National Congress Party was stalling on the 2005 north-south peace deal.

The standoff threatens to derail that peace deal and could also hinder the Darfur talks in Libya.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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