Al-Bashir issues Darfur ultimatum
Sudan's president to withdraw from peace talks with rebels in Doha if no accord agreed by Thursday.
Last Modified: 29 Dec 2010 22:28 GMT
The latest violence in the Darfur region has displaced more than 30,000 people, the UN says [GALLO/GETTY]

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has said he will withdraw from Darfur peace talks in Doha, the Qatari capital, and organise new negotiations in Darfur if no accord is reached with rebels by Thursday.

Al-Bashir announced the deadline during a speech to supporters in Nyala on Wednesday.

"But if there is no agreement, we will withdraw our negotiating team and the talks will then be held in Darfur," he said in a speech broadcast live on state television from the South Darfur capital.

"We will fight those who choose to take up arms, but we will sit next to those who want development."

Sudanese officials had earlier set December 31 as the deadline for a Darfur peace accord, with a referendum on independence for the south, now just 11 days away, due to dominate the Khartoum government's agenda next month.

Ghazi Salaheddine, al-Bashir's special advisor on Darfur, was expected in Doha on Wednesday to give a push to the talks, according to Sudan's official SUNA news agency.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the most heavily-armed of the Darfur rebels, condemed al-Bashir's speech as "a declaration of war".

"It undermines the efforts of the international community and of the mediation to resolve this conflict through political means," Ahmed Hussein Adam, a JEM spokesman, told AFP by phone from Doha.

"JEM is committed to reach a fair settlement of the conflict, which is why we are here in Doha ... If the Sudan government leaves Doha, we cannot have an agreement with ourselves."

Failed negotiations

The Sudanese government has for months been trying to secure a comprehensive peace agreement with all Darfur rebel groups.

"I am among those who want a swift and satisfactory solution. But mediation by someone with a stopwatch in his hand is not good mediation"

Djibril Bassole, UN-African chief peace negotiators for Darfur

Earlier this month, JEM resumed talks with the government aimed at reaching a ceasefire, while the Liberty and Justice Movement (LJM), an alliance of rebel splinter factions, was expected to finalise a peace deal with Khartoum in mid-December after agreeing a ceasefire in March.

But the accord was never signed.

Deadly violence in Sudan's war-torn western region since December 10 has displaced around 32,000 people, according to UN estimates.

"These clashes are deplorable and demonstrate the importance of a ceasefire," Djibril Bassole, the UN-African Union chief peace negotiator for Darfur, told AFP on Tuesday.

"If the violence escalates, the general atmosphere in the negotiations will deteriorate."

Bassole said he would try to persuade the different parties not to abandon the peace process, even if an agreement was not reached in the coming days.

"I am among those who want a swift and satisfactory solution. But mediation by someone with a stopwatch in his hand is not good mediation," he said.

Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures.

Khartoum says 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

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