At talks mediated by the African Union (AU) in the Nigerian capital Abuja to end 18 months of conflict in Darfur, the Sudanese government agreed to enlarge an AU force in the western region as long as it helps confine rebels to their bases, while Sudanese forces would disarm the Janjawid militia.

 

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain was willing to provide more cash for AU military operations in Darfur. Sudan has already agreed to about 300 AU forces to protect more than 100 observers of a shaky April ceasefire.

 

But rebels said they would not disarm until a political solution, including power and wealth sharing, is implemented.

 

"This is impossible. No rebel movement can accept to disarm before a political settlement," said Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, secretary-general of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), speaking by telephone from Darfur.

 

The current impasse came amidst Aljazeera reports that the Khartoum government is refusing to abide by a United Nations Security Council deadline for a resolution to the Darfur conflict.

 

Conditions rejected

 

"And we must be clear, not just after political agreement but after it is achieved - whether it be one year, however long it takes," Garda said. In Abuja, another rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement, said it also opposed garrisoning rebels.

 

Alex Vines of London's Royal Institute for International Affairs said: "There is an element of brinkmanship, and also a problem of coherency between the rebels in Darfur and those in talks on the outside."

 

"It is sensible for the AU to provide a protection force now because it is quicker than a political solution. The humanitarian crisis in Darfur cannot wait a year," he added.

 

Land dispute


The conflict in Darfur began as a land issue between nomadic tribes grazing their animals on land which local subsistence farmers claimed ownership of.

More than a million people have
been displaced by the conflict

Two rebel groups from southern Sudan, (SLM) and the (JEM) stepped in and later the situation developed into an alleged ethnic conflict.

Both local and nomadic tribes claim they only retaliated.

Khartoum says the rebels exploited the situation and incited ethnic hatred for political gain.

Darfur, an area the size of France is said to be among the world’s most energy rich areas, which rebels claim the government has neglected.

In February 2003, the rebels claimed leadership of an uprising against Khartoum, whom they say is too Arab.

Rebel demands include direct involvement and control in the governing of Darfur and other provinces of oil-rich Sudan.

The UN says more than a million people have been displaced and upto 30,000 people have lost their lives in Darfur due to the conflict.