- Title: USA/FILE: Envoy says Sudan pushes for Darfur peace talks, ceasefire
- Date: 25th May 2007
- Summary: (BN17) DARFUR, SUDAN (FILE) (REUTERS) AFRICAN UNION TRUCKS DRIVING BY TROOPS LOADING SUPPLIES ONTO PLANE
- Embargoed: 9th June 2007 13:00
- Topics: War / Fighting,International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVAAPTS19NY5UIC231K9O82BU2UC
- Story Text: Sudan's government is willing to meet rebel groups from Darfur anywhere, any time and would commit to a unilateral cease-fire while peace talks are held, Khartoum's ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday (May 24).
Abdelmahmood Abdelhaleem told a Reuters Newsmakers panel there were now up to 19 rebel groups in Darfur and urged the international community to unite them.
Reuters journalist Paul Holmes, the moderator of the panel discussion says that in a poll released by Reuters AlertNet on Thursday, it showed that most aid agencies in Darfur feel they are unable to speak about the situation in Sudan for fear of jeopardising their work or being thrown out.
Darfur is one of the most dangerous regions for aid workers - 34 have been killed since 2004 and scores wounded.
Gunmen have stormed agency compounds, abducted relief workers, shot at aid convoys and stolen vehicles.
But many aid agencies said they would not publicly identify perpetrators for fear of endangering staff.
And journalists who try to cover Darfur find themselves exposed to the same dangers.
NBC News anchor, Ann Curry who has been to Darfur three times in the year confirmed the poll in saying, "it is very difficult to get the real facts in this story."
An angry Abdelhaleem accused the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank, represented by John Prendergast, of being 'one of the most destabilising elements in current world politics and especially in our part of Africa.'
Prendergast laughed off the comment and accused Khartoum of arming some of the rebels in a "divide and conquer" strategy Chad and Eritrea provided guns to other armed groups.
"This policy of divide and conquer which has been in place since the early part of this decade had as its objective to creation of anarchy in Darfur. So when people take a snapshot today and see Darfur and go 'My God all these groups are fighting against each other is seems like it's chaos,' it is precisely what the government intended," Prendergast said.
Abdelhaleem disputed the death figure, saying the toll was between 9,000 and 10,000. The United States has said the conflict is a genocide, but Khartoum has denied this.
He accused the United States of being more concerned about regime change, rather than the crisis itself.
Lauren Landis, the U.S. State Department's senior envoy to Sudan and a member of the panel, said a regime change was "furthest from our mind", adding that Washington would likely announce new sanctions against Khartoum if the country does not agree to accept a large force of U.N. peacekeepers.
The U.N. Security Council last year adopted a resolution to deploy a "hybrid" U.N.-African Union force of more than 20,000. But Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has argued that this figure is too high. He has agreed to the deployment of 3,000 U.N. police and military personnel to aid the African Union force of about 7,000.
Landis also criticised Khartoum for hampering the entry of much-needed aid into Darfur.
"What we find is, is that although the government of Sudan gives the big diplomatic yes to the life support package and the heavy support package, which I will grant. But what we get is the bureaucratic no," Landis said.
More than 200,000 people are estimated to have died and 2 million chased from their homes in the four-year-old conflict in western Sudan between ethnic African rebels and the government, backed by the Arab Janjaweed militia. However, over the last year rebel groups have been fighting each other.
Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and actress, Mia Farrow who took part on the panel asked Abdelhaleem about the genocide, in which he answered, " it is an issue of climate change of perceived socialised marginalisation, it has never been such civic killings that fit into the category that defines genocide."
Fielding questions from all of those on the panel, Abdalhaleem said that the Sudanese government is ready to meet with rebel groups anytime. When asked by NBC News anchor Ann Curry, "what do you want?" Abdelhaleem said, "I want the rebels to come to the negotiation table today."
Only one rebel faction signed an initial Darfur Peace Agreement with Khartoum last year.
The United Nations and the African Union are organizing peace talks. But it is expected to be months before an initial dialogue is underway, much less an agreement, thus bolstering calls for a robust peacekeeping force in the interim.
Farrow who has visited the Sudan and hopes for future visits, says that she will feel good when all in Darfur no longer feel terrified.
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