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Darfur Talks Ongoing, with U.S. Encouragement

Darfur Talks Ongoing, with U.S. Encouragement

Special representative says U. S. "speaking frankly" to all parties in Sudan

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Sudanese government and rebels are continuing their negotiations, not long after a high-level U.S. delegation visited the troubled Darfur region of the country.

Rebels fighting the Sudanese government and Khartoum-supported militias known as the Jingaweit in Sudan’s Darfur region were encouraged to resume talks in Abuja, Nigeria, recently by a high-level U.S. diplomatic delegation led by the deputy secretary of state's special representative for Sudan, Roger Winter.

Winter and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Michael Ranneberger spoke at a press briefing in Washington October 3 -- just weeks after Winter, a former top official with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visited Sudan.

Also on October 3, African Union (AU) mediators and parties from both sides agreed to resume the talks in Abuja after they had been stalled for a week. The United States hopes the AU-sponsored talks will provide a lasting solution to the crisis in Darfur, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the past three years and displaced up to 2 million people.

Winter said the main goal of his trip to Darfur was to make sure there was "a clear, coherent SLM (Sudan Liberation Movement)" that would negotiate an end to violence in Darfur at the talks in Abuja.

The SLM/A (Sudan Liberation Movement/Army), based in the western region of Darfur, should not be confused with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the southern rebel force that fought the Khartoum government for 20 years before signing an accord last January called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). A government of national unity involving these two parties went into effect in July.

While the linkage between the CPA and the Abuja talks has not been formalized, Ranneberger said a lasting solution to the problem in Darfur was "inter-related" with the CPA. "We need to push ahead on the political talks" in Abuja and on implementing the CPA, he stressed.

In Darfur, Winter said, "we met for about three hours with [SLM] military commanders at a remote location they controlled, and the basic message from me on behalf of this [U.S.] government was that they really need to be present; they really need to participate in this [negotiation in Abuja] and they need to understand the level of international isolation that would continue to engulf them if in fact they didn't negotiate in Abuja.

"As it turned out, they [the SLM rebels] had made a clear decision not to go [to Abuja]," Winter said. "And they reversed themselves at U.S. request." The result was that about 11 SLM military commanders, who actively fought the Jingaweit and government forces, arrived in Abuja "and have been engaged in the [negotiating] process since I left."

Unfortunately, another important goal of the Darfur trip -- to gauge SLM unity -- proved a disappointment, Winter told journalists. "The divisions have not been healed yet between the two wings of the SLM delegation. This is a major [concern] for us, and our [diplomatic] people in Abuja … are working various sorts of options, as are other international partners, to see if a unified delegation of the SLM can yet be put together.

"If it is not, it is our judgment [that] it fairly weakens the rebel side in the negotiations" in Abuja, Winter observed.

Asked generally how relations with the Khartoum government are progressing, Winter said: "I actually think that at the 'doing business level' we relate [well with] all the parties. We speak frankly to the [Khartoum] government. We speak frankly to the SPLM. We speak frankly to the Darfurian rebels [SLM]. And they understand the U.S. is in a unique role here."

Therefore, "all of them value the U.S. role and the level of activity in which we engage" in facilitating peace efforts in Sudan, Winter concluded.

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