Rebels from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region yesterday scoffed at a new deadline for signing an African Union-brokered peace accord, saying "crucial demands" remained to be met.
"The extension of the deadline does not have any meaning for us," said Saifaldin Haroun, spokesman of the main faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), one of two rebel groups in a conflict that has claimed some 300,000 lives and displaced 2.4 million people since 2003.
"The AU peace proposal does not address our crucial demands," he told reporters.
Early yesterday, at the urging of US Ambassador to Sudan Cam-eron Hume, the African Union gave the rebels an additional 48 hours to sign the accord after they allowed a Sunday midnight deadline to elapse.
But Ahmed Hussain of the Justice and Equality Movement said the group was "more interested in the concessions the government of Sudan will or can grant us during the extension. This will be the basis on whether or not we would sign the agreement."
The four parties in the conflict -- the two rebel groups plus the Sudanese government and pro-Khartoum Janjaweed militias blamed for a raft of abuses in Darfur -- were all poised to sign the accord before the rebels said on Sunday they had received the Arabic version of the text only the day before.
Reservations raised by the rebels include claims that the document -- an English version of which they received March 10 -- did not consider giving the country's vice presidency to the Darfur region, nor did it adequately resolve other power-sharing and wealth distribution issues.
The two rebel movements are also demanding a firm guarantee that the peace accord will be implemented.
"We know the Sudan government very well," Hussain said yesterday. "It does not respect agreements. So, we need very safe and firm guarantees from the government and the international community."
He added: "The Sudanese government should be held responsible for any failure at these Abuja talks."
On Sunday, African Union special envoy and chief mediator Salim Ahmed Salim warned the warring parties: "If we walk away from here without a peace deal, the world will not forgive us. There are no winners if this war continues."
"Every one of us must share the blame and must live with the guilt of the lives that will be lost and the communities ruined because of the failure to make peace here," he said.
In pleading for the extension, Hume said: "It is our belief that finding a solution, however difficult, is not impossible. It is indeed possible to fill in the blanks within the next 48 hours."
Senior UN officials have been highly critical of the Sudanese government in recent months, accusing it of continuing to support the Janjaweed.