African Union mediating talks on Darfur

The Sudanese government was holding closed-door talks on Friday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, with mediators from the African Union (AU), according to Hamid Algabid, the AU special envoy to Darfur. The talks are intended to end a 17-month conflict between rebels, the government and allied militias in western Sudan's Darfur region.

A meeting on Thursday with delegations from Darfur's two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), reportedly ended up in a shouting match between the two sides. The rebels reportedly demanded the removal of government troops and Janjawid militias from Darfur as a precondition to political dialogue, a demand the government said was totally unrealistic.

"It is completely unacceptable and unrealistic as the militias are not under the control of the government. The government cannot enter into such commitment," the government spokesman, Ibrahim Muhammad, was reported as saying.

Other demands included the disarmament of the Janjawid, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Darfur, respect for the 8 April ceasefire agreement, ending impunity in the region and the release of political prisoners, Algabid told IRIN.

Muhammad said anyone carrying arms in Darfur was considered an "outlaw" and that the government had asked the AU to come up with a plan for disarmament and areas where the arms could be stored.

He said a separate meeting would be held non Saturday with Darfur's two rebel groups, members of whose delegations were still arriving in Addis Ababa on Friday.

At the opening of the talks on Thursday, an SLM/A official, Adam Ali Shogan, accused the government of bombarding a village in Northern Darfur earlier in the week, killing 77 civilians. There is no independent confirmation of the alleged bombing.

He said the government was committing "ethnic cleansing" in the region and asked the international community to provide security.

The head of the Chadian delegation, Foreign Minister Yamssoum Nagoum, said: "There can be no military solution. Concession and compromise are the solution."

Alpha Konare, the AU Commission chairman, said there was "no success in military escalation". "Let's give a chance to peace," he said. "And let's begin political dialogue."