Sudan rebels agree to peace talks

Anti-government Sudanese rebels from western Darfur have said they will attend peace talks in Nigeria to try to end a conflict that has displaced more than a million people.

    Darfur is just the latest in a long line of civil conflicts in Sudan

    The Khartoum government is under intense international pressure to rein in alleged pro-government fighters

    accused of looting and burning farming

    villages and provide security for those displaced in the

    fighting in the remote area bordering Chad.

    If not, the UN Security Council says, Khartoum could face

    unspecified sanctions.

    "We thought we could have been sufficiently consulted before

    fixing the date in particular but nevertheless we will go,"

    Ali Trayo, spokesman for Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), said on Thursday.

    The secretary-general of the other main rebel group JEM, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda,

    said they would go to

    the talks, although the date might be problematic.

    The African Union has proposed a 23 August date.


    "Yes, we are going to the talks, but we have some remarks

    about the time they decided because we have a conference in

    Germany at same time," he said.

    "Because of that we want to

    postpone the time."

    The SLA also said the date gave them little time to organise

    and inform their movement commanders scattered throughout

    Darfur, a remote area the size of France.

    The UN threat has been slammed
    by Sudan government supporters

    The SLA and JEM launched a revolt in February last year

    accusing Khartoum of neglect and of arming "militias"

    known as Janjawid to drive African farmers from their lands.

    Sudan denies the charge saying the Janjawid

    are outlaws, and that the international communitry has wrongly presented the conflict as a racial one when it is a war over land.

    An alleged Janjawid leader recently told that the rebels started the conflict and tribes in Darfur are simply defending thelmselves.

    However, the UN

    says the conflict has triggered the world's worst humanitarian

    crisis with about 200,000 refugees in neighbouring Chad.

    'Government bombing'

    Abu Garda also said the rebels had agreed with the World

    Food Programme (WFP) to give the UN body access to rebel-held

    areas in Darfur to distribute food.

    "Our delegation in Asmara headed by our president and also

    the SLA agreed ... and we will commit ourselves to execute this.

    Over a million people have been
    displaced by the Darfur fighting

    "In our whole area the WFP are free to come and see the people,"

    he said, adding they would be afforded full protection.

    But he added that the JEM could not protect them if the

    government bombed their areas despite an April truce signed in

    the Chadian capital N'Djamena.

    "The government should commit itself to stopping any

    flyovers of our territories," he said.

    The United Nations said in a statement from Geneva on

    Tuesday that Sudan had used helicopter gunships in fresh attacks in

    south Darfur.

    Khartoum reaction

    The government denied the reports and the top UN

    official in Khartoum said they were still being checked.

    But Human Rights Watch said atrocities like

    rape were still happening in Darfur, despite government promises

    to bring security to those displaced.

    Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir said Western

    nations were exploiting the Darfur conflict to gain control of

    resources like oil and gold in the arid region.

    Umar al-Bashir says the West is
    trying to control Sudan's wealth

    "There is an agenda to seek for petrol and gold in the

    region," he told a women's union meeting convened on Darfur in

    Khartoum on Thursday.

    "This high life that they (the West) enjoy now is a result of

    the theft of the colonies and their riches and peoples," he

    said, with a specific reference to Britain.

    Sudan's two main oil fields are in the south, although

    Khartoum is hopeful of more oil discoveries in Africa's largest


    Tanzanian troop?

    Meanwhile, Tanzania is considering a

    request by the African Union (AU) to send troops to 

    Darfur, Tanzania's defence minister said on Thursday.

    "I have been requested (for troops) but the decision has not

    yet been reached because the situation there is very fluid,"

    Defence Minister Philemon Sarungi said, adding the

    government was assessing the situation in Darfur.

    The AU has said it would send more than 300 troops to

    western Sudan to protect AU monitors there, but it is considering

    expanding its mission to about 2000 soldiers who would have a

    peacekeeping role.

    So far only Rwandan and Nigerian troops had been picked to

    be part of the 53-member AU's force in Sudan


    SOURCE: Agencies


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