Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Obasanjo tries to revive Darfur talks

MEDIATION The Nigerian president, in his capacity as African Union chairman, asked the Sudanese government and two rebel groups to come to Abuja to resolve the crisis


Nigerian President Olusegun Oba-sanjo has invited Sudanese government and rebel negotiators to Nigeria to resume talks to end the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region that has led to the slaughter of tens of thousands, an African Union spokesman said.

Meanwhile, John Garang, the leader of southern Sudan's main rebel group, which is locked in a separate conflict with the government, offered to provide 10,000 troops as peacekeepers who could work alongside government forces to help resolve the Darfur crisis.

Obasanjo, in his capacity as African Union chairman, asked the Sudanese government and two rebel groups to attend negotiations in the Nigerian capital Abuja starting Aug. 23 after earlier talks in the Ethiopia capital Addis Ababa failed, African Union spokesman Desmond Orjiako said.

"It is a follow-up to the political dialogue which failed because the armed opposition walked out on the government side. The agenda [for the negotiations] will be determined in Abuja," Orjiako said on Sunday by telephone from Addis Ababa.

He said he did not know how long the talks will last or whether the Chadian government, who have been co-mediators with the African Union, were invited.

On July 17, mediators indefinitely suspended talks to end the 18-month conflict -- which has forced over a million people to flee their homes -- after rebels walked out, saying the Sudanese government had ignored existing peace agreements.

Obasanjo issued the invitation after consulting with both sides because rebels had earlier expressed reservations about Ethiopia as a suitable venue for negotiations given the country's close relationship with Sudan, Orjiako said.

When the Chadian government and the African Union began mediating between the two parties in March, a cease-fire agreement was reached in April to allow easier access to Darfur for humanitarian organizations, but resolving the political problems of Darfur has been more difficult.

An African Union commission monitoring the cease-fire agreement, however, has reported violations by both sides.

Speaking during a visit by US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to Ntinga, a town in southern Sudan, Garang said a resolution to the Darfur crisis might come faster if talks were moved to Kenya where separate negotiations between the Sudanese government and the southern rebels have reached an advanced stage.

The Darfur violence is unrelated to the 21-year rebellion in southern Sudan, but Garang has warned that conflicts elsewhere in the country could threaten any peace agreement his group reaches with the government.

One of the Darfur rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army, and Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Army are members of a Sudanese opposition grouping that maintains a headquarters in neighboring Eritrea.

Garang also proposed a 30,000-strong peacekeeping force to "prevent genocide" in Darfur.

He said a third of the force could consist of Sudanese army troops, while his group and international forces, preferably under the auspices of the African Union, would each provide a third of the force.

"This is to show the people that nobody is invading Sudan," Garang said, addressing the Sudanese government's disapproval of suggestions that countries like the UK could contribute peacekeeping troops for a multinational force in Darfur.

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