Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Sudan rebels quit talks, faulting regime

NO PROGRESS The government said it won't accept preconditions, but the rebels said the regime hasn't honored its previous commitments to bring peace to Darfur


African Union-sponsored talks to end the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Sudan's western Darfur region collapsed on Saturday, with two rebel groups saying the government still isn't implementing existing peace agreements.

"These talks are now finished," said Ahmed Hussain Adam, speaking for both his Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Liberation Army. "We are leaving Addis Ababa."

African mediators worked to save the negotiations, which began on Thursday at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

But the rebels insisted the government fulfill a list of previous commitments before beginning a fresh round of talks. The two delegations walked out of the negotiations without having met their government counterparts.

Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim, spokesman for the government delegation, said Sudan was not prepared to accept preconditions.

"The demands of the rebels are not acceptable and it is a disrespect to the African Union," Ibrahim said. "It is a delaying tactic ... The rebels are not serious."

But Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail said the government remains open to further negotiations.

"This round will not be the last one," he told reporters in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

AU mediators were working to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.

"None of them told us the negotiations have ended," said Adam Thiam, a spokesman for African Union Commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare.

Chief among the rebels' demands was an internationally supervised timeline for Sudan to make good on its promise to disarm the Arab militias accused of killing tens of thousands of black Africans and of driving more than a million from their homes in a systematic campaign of terror.

The insurgents were also seeking government commitments to respect previous agreements, allow an international inquiry into the killings, prosecute those responsible, lift restrictions on humanitarian workers and release prisoners of war.

The insurgents also wanted a more neutral venue for future negotiations, arguing that Ethiopia has close ties with Sudan.

``There's no progress being made because the government has refused these demands,'' said Adam.

He said the government-backed attacks continued as recently as Thursday, when militia fighters known as Janjaweed raided the southern Darfur village of Majreia, killing 17 people. His claim could not be independently verified.

Most of the rebels' demands were contained in a widely ignored ceasefire deal signed April 8 with the government.

Sudan also signed an agreement with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on July 3 calling for disarming the Janjaweed, deploying soldiers, facilitating aid and allowing international troops and monitors into Darfur.

However, the foreign minister said Thursday in Khartoum that his government needed more time to implement its commitments in Darfur, a vast and remote region the size of Iraq.

Nomadic Arab tribes have long been in conflict with their African farming neighbors over Darfur's dwindling water and usable land.

The tensions exploded into violence in February 2003 when the two African rebel groups took up arms over what they regard as unjust treatment by the government in their struggle with the Arabs.

The rebels and refugees accuse the government of arming and providing air support to the Janjaweed, who have torched hundreds of villages in a scorched-earth policy human rights groups equate with ethnic cleansing. The government denies any involvement in the militia attacks.

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