UN envoy heads to Sudan for AU talks on Darfur

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) —The UN interim special representative for Sudan, Jan Eliasson, said he will leave for African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa later Friday to find a solution to the bloodshed in Darfur.

After a meeting with AU representative Salim Ahmed Salim and new United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has made Darfur his top concern, Eliasson told reporters he would meet in Ethiopia with AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare and other African officials.

On Tuesday, Eliasson said he would continue his discussions on Darfur with Sudanese authorities in Khartoum. The Swedish diplomat underscored the UN’s determination to work “hand in hand with diplomacy” with the AU to find a political way out of the conflict in Darfur, which he “has gone on for far too long”.  He said the first step would be trying to reduce the level of violence in Darfur, where the war has killed some 200,000 people and displaced two million more in nearly four years, according to UN figures disputed by Sudanese authorities. Salim, who will travel with Eliasson, said the objective of the discussions was “to do whatever we can to reenergise the political process because, at the end of the day, really, there can be no military solution to the crisis in Darfur”. The war in Darfur erupted in February 2003 when rebels from minority tribes in the vast western province took up arms to demand an equal share of national resources, prompting a heavy-handed crackdown from Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed. The Sudanese government signed a peace agreement in May 2006 with the main faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, led by Minni Minnawi, but others — including an SLA faction led by Abdel Wahid Nur, and the Justice and Equality Movement — refused to put their names to the pact.

The United Nations in July called on the government of President Omar Bashir to accept the deployment of 20,000 UN peacekeepers to halt the violence in Darfur.

Bashir rejected the resolution, but the UN, AU and Sudan reached a compromise agreement in November on deploying a hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping force — a deal the Sudanese leader formally accepted in writing this week but which has yet to be implemented.

On Tuesday, UN chief Ban, who took office on Monday, put Darfur at the top of his agenda and said he intended to take part in an AU summit in Addis Ababa later this month. 

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