Representatives of two rebel groups from Sudan's Darfur region attending a peace meeting with the Sudanese government to try to end the humanitarian crisis in the region left the Ethiopian capital on Sunday after the talks failed to take off.

"We are going back home because on our part, we have given the message of the Darfur people. We did not walk out. We have consulted with mediators until the last minute," rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) coordinator Ahmad Tagud Lisan told reporters.

Even though the rebels claim not to have walked out, the Sudanese goverment's representatives were the only ones left sitting at the negotiating table, a Sudanese official told reporters.

Rebels walked out

The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement signed a deal with the Free Lions Movement of eastern Sudan in the Eritrean capital Asmara on Thursday to keep waging war on Khartoum and unify their military, political and information efforts, al-Sahafa daily said.

Despite efforts by the African Union (AU) and the UN, the two sides have only sat down together once during this latest initiative, on Thursday, when the encounter degenerated into a prolonged shouting match.

An AU source also said JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim had also demanded AU chairman Alpha Umar Kunari to move the venue of any future talks to another African country, or to Europe.

According to the AU and the UN, the negotiations did not make headway, primarily due to the rebels demading that their conditions for negotiations be met first.

Rebel demands

Rebels have been insistent their demands must be met before starting negotiations with Khartoum.

Special UN envoy Muhammad Sahnun said on Saturday the southern-based rebel groups, Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had refused to enter into direct negotiations since Thursday, unless their six preconditions were fully met. 

"The rebels refused any negotiation, unless their demands are implemented"

Muhammad Sahnun,
Special UN envoy

The first condition is that the Sudanese government should disarm the Janjawid.

The other conditions are: provide access for an inquiry into crimes against humanity; bring those who allegedly committed those crimes to justice; allow unimpeded humanitarian access; free so-called prisoners of war, rebels and other detainees; and set a neutral venue for future talks.

Sudan's government, facing worldwide pressure over the worsening humanitarian situation in Darfur, says it is prepared to discuss the demands as part of peace talks, but not as a prerequisite for those talks.

"The rebels refused any negotiation, unless their demands are implemented," Sahnun told reporters in Addis Ababa, as mediators shuttled between the two sides, trying to breathe life into the nearly-doomed meeting.

Confidence building measures

"We have decided to work on the confidence-building process and to issue a statement on this meeting, which is over, but separate consultations will continue throughout the day," Sahnun added.

"We'll stay here overnight and then leave (for home)," Ahmad Tugud Lisan, told reporters after meeting AU mediators in
Addis Ababa.

Lisan said rebel officials would hold a courtesy meeting with AU Commission chairman, Alpha Umar Kunari, the top civil servant of the 53-nation body, before leaving.

Fighting in Darfur has created an
impending humanitarian crisis

A Sudanese official who refused to be named has told Aljazeera the Darfur issue is being turned into a race issue by the media, when in essence it is a land issue between nomads and subsistence farmers in the region.

Rebels from the south have been exploiting the situation by fuelling the violence in an attempt to get other rebels released and at the same time to embarrass Sudan, he added.

Looming health crisis

The official has also mentioned that everyone is prepared to negotiate, including the Janjawid, but blamed the rebels for refusing to carry on.

Neither of the rebel groups SLA nor JEM, has met government delegates since Kunari launched the latest attempt to restart Darfur's fragile peace process at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on Thursday.

Meanwhile, aid agencies warned on Friday that the onset of rains had severely hampered efforts to help thousands of displaced people in Darfur and across the border in Chad.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also warned that a major health catastrophe could erupt in Darfur if the necessary funds and supplies were not made available to fight disease and malnutrition by the international community.