UN Darfur envoy says negotiations complicated

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN envoy trying to promote a political solution to the four-year conflict in Darfur said the road to negotiations has become even more complicated because of the increasing number of rebel groups.Jan Eliasson said there were nine opposition movements when he came to New York three weeks ago, but now there are 12 — and the number could increase.

“They are fragmenting further, and that is, of course, great difficulty, not only politically but physically and logistically,” he told reporters Friday after a closed-door briefing to the UN Security Council.

Eliasson presented a roadmap to the council that he and African Union envoy Salim Ahmed Salim have prepared aimed at reviving peace talks and reaching an agreement to end the conflict.

The first step — getting all political initiatives on the same track and ultimately under the UN-AU umbrella — started in May and will continue in June. The second step, conducting shuttle diplomacy to prepare for negotiations, will start in late June and continue in July, he said.

“And then, we hope that we will be able to have the negotiation phase start at the end of the summer,” Eliasson said.

Fighting between ethnic African rebels and pro-government janjaweed militia in Sudan’s vast western Darfur region began in February 2003 and has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

A beleaguered, 7,000-strong African Union force has been unable to stop the fighting, and neither has the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed a year ago by the government and one rebel group. Other rebel factions have called the deal insufficient.

Eliasson urged all parties to stop all hostilities and start seriously preparing for negotiations.

That means the Sudanese government should examine the Darfur Peace Agreement “to see where there could be openings for real discussions”, he said.

The government has already agreed to open up the issue of wealth sharing for discussion during negotiations, Eliasson said, but the parties must also talk about power sharing, “which is more sensitive and more difficult”, and security, primarily disarming the janjaweed.

Eliasson and his new deputy, Pekka Haavisto, the former European Union envoy for Darfur, have been meeting with representatives of the rebel groups that have not signed the agreement inside and outside Darfur, including in Chad, Europe and Eritrea.

Most have indicated they are ready to come to talks, Haavisto said.

“We are pretty sure that in the end they all realise the importance of accepting invitations to the UN-AU led negotiations, because if you don’t accept a seat at that table, then you accept that you don’t have a voice in a very important discussion of the enhanced agreement that we hope to reach,” Eliasson said.

He said it is important that groups that did not sign the Darfur Peace Agreement view the next few months as a time to mobilise political efforts and coordinate positions.

“What we expect as negotiators is that they would coordinate their positions on wealth sharing, on power sharing and security,” Eliasson said.

He noted that Eritrea, Chad and Libya are embarking on a regional initiative to promote a political solution in Darfur.

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