Sudan says ready for talks with Darfur rebels

CAIRO (Reuters) — The Sudanese government is willing to start unconditional talks with the National Redemption Front rebel group to stop the violence in Darfur but sees no need for a new peace deal, a senior presidential adviser said.

Nafie Ali Nafie, addressing reporters in Egypt, South Africa, France, and Britain through a satellite link from Khartoum late on Wednesday, also said Sudan would not accept the presence of UN troops in the war-ravaged area, even in return for the United States lifting economic sanctions.

“We accept dialogue without imposing any condition on them and without accepting any condition. If we agree then we will thank God, and if we don’t we will continue our dialogue,” he said.

There was no comment on Thursday from the NRF, an alliance of rebel groups that rejected as inadequate a May peace accord signed in the Nigerian capital Abuja. The group has said it is ready to negotiate with Khartoum but wants a new agreement.

The only Darfuri signatory to the deal, which has failed to stop the violence in Sudan’s vast and remote west, was one faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement. Asked if the government would sign a new peace deal with any rebel group that rejected the May accord, Nafie said: “We can reach an agreement without having to amend the Abuja (deal). We have the basis that can help us reach this.” Nafie’s appearance was the first of a series of video conferences the Sudanese government is organising to explain its position on Darfur after repeated accusations by Western powers that it was supporting militias to fight mostly non-Arab rebels.

The United Nations estimates 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since the conflict flared in 2003.

Khartoum denies any link to the militias, known locally as Janjaweed and drawn mainly from Arab tribes.

Similar violence has broken out in nearby eastern Chad, where gunmen on horseback have killed up to 220 villagers in the past week, the UN refugee agency said on Thursday.

French minister

The United States and its allies have been pressing Sudan to accept a UN resolution to deploy a 20,000-strong UN force in Darfur, replacing the under-funded and ill-equipped African Union force that has failed to stop the fighting.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who has repeatedly called on Khartoum to let in the UN peacekeepers, will visit Sudan next week to speed up the search for a solution to the humanitarian crisis there, his ministry said.

Douste-Blazy will visit the Sudanese capital on Sunday and meet President Omar Hassan Bashir before travelling to Darfur on Monday, it said in a statement.

President Bashir has said the presence of UN troops would amount to an invasion.

UN diplomats said on Wednesday the world body was considering a hybrid African Union-UN force, possibly led by an African commander, to win Bashir’s approval. The commander would report to the AU and the UN special envoy in Sudan, they said on condition of anonymity.

There was no comment from Sudan on Thursday about the possible offer. But Nafie, Bashir’s most powerful adviser, said the government would not be tempted to accept UN troops in Darfur even if it was offered economic incentives.

“We do not need the carrot, and would not be intimidated by the stick. … We don’t care,” he said.

He likened the UN resolution to a “trap” Western powers have set to capture “the mouse in Khartoum”.

Nafie expressed delight at the Republican Party’s defeat in US midterm elections, but said he did not expect congressional Democrats to change Washington’s policy towards Khartoum.

Nafie’s news conference lasted for more than two hours and was marred by technical failures in Khartoum and other cities taking part. Bashir and Second Vice President Ali Osman Taha are scheduled to make similar appearances later in November.

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