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SUDAN-CHAD: Darfur rebels meet Sudan government delegationAbidjan, 7 April 2004 (IRIN) - The Sudanese government and two rebel movements in the western Darfur region held their first face-to-face talks in the Chadian capital N'djamena on Tuesday night, hours after Chadian mediators threatened to give up their attempt to establish a dialogue.
"Things have progressed. Yesterday we had the first direct talks", Ahmad Allammi, the spokesman the Chadian mediation team, told IRIN by telephone from N’djamena.
He expressed hope that the two sides might be able to agree on the terms of a “humanitarian ceasefire” by the end of this week.
On Tuesday, Allammi said Chad had threatened to suspend the peace talks, which were getting nowhere after a week of indirect negotiations during which the mediators shuttled between the hotel rooms of the two sides.
The breakthrough finally came after the Chadian government announced that it was convening a ceremony to announce the formal suspension of its attempts to bring the two sides together.
That was enough to bring the Sudanese government on one side and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on the other to their senses.
Allami, a political advisor to Chadian President Idriss Deby, said neither side wanted to be blamed for the collapse of negotiations, so they finally agreed to meet.
"It worked", he said, adding that that the two sides carried on talking until midnight.
The sticking point that had previously prevented the Sudanese government and rebels from meeting in the same room was Khartoum’s refusal to conduct the talks in the presence of international observers.
However, the Chadian mediators managed to overcome this hurdle by persuading the two sides to discuss humanitarian issues first before moving on to the political agenda.
"What convinced the delegations was the agenda. We reversed the order in order to start with the humanitarian issues", Allammi said.
While the rebels wanted international observers to participate in all the discussions - humanitarian and political- the Sudanese government refused to accept the presence of some western delegations, particularly during the political debate.
However, Allami said the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels had now agreed to discuss the humanitarian section of the agenda first, including the possibility of a “humanitarian ceasefire.”
He told IRIN that they might well reach agreement by the weekend on a temporary truce that would allow some humanitarian aid to reach the victims of the fighting in Darfur, but declined to give further details.
Diplomats from the United Nations, the African Union, the United States, the European Union and the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, will sit on the humanitarian talks.
But Allami said only the African Union representatives would be present during the political negotiations that were due to follow.
On Wednesday morning, the rival Sudanese delegations held internal consultations on a draft ceasefire agreement put to them by the mediators. Allami said they were due to resume face-to-face talks in the afternoon.
The talks are aimed at halting the year-old conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region which has affected more than one million people.
The fighting in this arid area one and a half times the size of Germany has created what the United Nations describes as the "worst humanitarian crisis" in the world.
More than 110,000 terrified civilians have fled as refugees to neighbouring Chad, while an estimated 750,000 more have been displaced from their homes within Darfur.
The United Nations, human rights organisations and independent relief agencies operating in the area say the burning and looting of entire villages and the rape and killing of civilians, have become daily occurrences.
The SLA and JEM say they are fighting for a better deal for the six million inhabitants of Darfur.
The mainly black Darfur rebels accuse President Omar Hassan El-Bashir of having neglected the region. They are pitched against the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed Arab militia group which fights alongside it.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]