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SUDAN-CHAD: Darfur talks impeded by disagreement over role of observers

KHARTOUM, 2 April 2004 (IRIN) - The Sudanese government delegation to peace talks in Chad and representatives from Darfur's rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, were holding talks with the Chadian mediators on Friday, but not with each other, a Western diplomat said.

An EU official told IRIN that the negotiations, which started on Wednesday, were still "procedural". Delegates were still talking about the agenda and the role of the facilitators, with diverging views between the participants.

The rebels wanted international observers to attend all the discussions, while the government was in favour of monitors being present only during discussions on humanitarian issues, he said.

The two rebel groups, which are calling for greater political and economic rights for Darfur, had made the presence of international monitors a precondition to holding direct talks with the government.

Another reason for the lack of progress might be the fact that too many international observers had turned up for the talks, the Western diplomat said, including delegations from the African Union, the UN, the EU and the US.

The diplomat said the government had reneged on an agreement to allow officials from the US and EU to take part in peace talks on the war-torn Darfur region. He told IRIN that following talks with EU and US officials for over a month, the government and Darfur's two rebels groups had agreed to allow the monitors to take part.

The formula agreed upon was to hold talks in Chad, under the chairmanship of Chadian President Idriss Deby, and with the EU and US "actively involved in talks about a humanitarian ceasefire". Political talks could take place afterwards, but it had only been agreed that the EU and US would be involved in discussions on a ceasefire, he said.

Among those anxious that the talks should succeed is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In a statement distributed at the opening of the talks, Annan said he was "very disturbed by events in Darfur, where the continuing conflict is having a devastating impact on the lives and wellbeing of the people".

"Civilian casualties and serious human rights violations are routinely reported. This is unacceptable and must stop," Annan said.

He hailed President Deby, the Sudanese government, the parties to the conflict and the international community over the talks, but added: "The fighting must stop, and to this end I strongly encourage all parties to work intensively towards declaring an effective humanitarian ceasefire. Humanitarian organisations and staff must also receive safe and unimpeded access to all those in need."

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday that the Sudanese government was complicit in crimes against humanity being committed by government-backed militias in Darfur.

In a new report, "Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan", HRW said that in a scorched-earth campaign, government forces and Arab militias were killing, raping and looting African civilians that share the same ethnicities as rebel forces in Darfur.

Neimad Bilal, the press attache at the Sudanese embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, rejected the report. "I have seen it, but it is all lies, nothing but lies," she told IRIN.

But Georgette Gagnon, the deputy director for the Africa division of HRW said in the report: "The Sudanese military and government-backed militias are committing massive human rights violations daily in the western region of Darfur. The government’s campaign of terror has already forcibly displaced one million innocent civilians, and the numbers are increasing by the day."

HRW called on the government of Sudan to immediately disarm and disband the militias, and allow international humanitarian groups access to provide relief to the displaced persons.

"Darfur in Flames: Atrocities in Western Sudan" is available at: http://hrw.org/

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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