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At Start Of Landmark Darfur Talks, Dialogue Urged

At start of landmark Darfur talks, top UN officials urge dialogue to spur peace

At the start of historic United Nations-backed talks to bring peace to Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region, top officials from the world body underscored that dialogue - not war - is the only means to find a sustainable and comprehensive solution to the crisis.

"This will neither be easy nor will it be necessarily quick," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said to the delegates gathered in Sirte, Libya, in a message delivered by Jan Eliasson, his Special Envoy. "Painful compromises will need to be made by all sides."

However, he stressed that "violence has continued for far too long, and further delays would be dangerous," adding that the current state of affairs could deteriorate rapidly.

Mr. Eliasson also underlined that "choosing dialogue and negotiations over war and confrontation is our only option. There is no military solution to the crisis of Darfur."

Reminding participants that more than a year has elapsed since the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed by the Sudanese Government and part of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), the Secretary-General said the Sirte talks represent an opportunity to bring an end to the conflict in Darfur.

"The eyes of the world are on you, and hopes of the people of Darfur rest with you," Mr. Ban said. "Your responsibility and your obligation is to deliver on these expectations."

He also urged all sides to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities to demonstrate their commitment to bring an end to the suffering of Darfurians.

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Since 2003, over 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others forced to flee their homes in the violence-wracked region because of fighting among rebels, Government forces and allied militia known as the Janjaweed.

Both officials expressed disappointment that several rebel forces are not in attendance at the landmark talks.

"To them, I wish to say that the door remains open, but that if they continue to stay away, there is much they stand to lose," Mr. Ban said. "Peace is a process, and any problems or issues should be discussed in Sirte, not elsewhere. We, the international community, will stay the course."

Emphasizing that the responsibility for bringing peace to Darfur lies with the leaders and people of the region, Mr. Eliasson encouraged those not participating in the Sirte talks to join the process.

"We understand that some of the movements' representatives need time to consult among yourselves in order to finalize your positions. We know there are efforts on-going to unify your movements," he said.

Nevertheless, all sides must "be held accountable for their decisions," the Special Envoy noted.

"There are those who may want to harm the process. We must not fall into this trap. We must all work together to chart the road to peace."

The Sirte talks are being chaired by Mr. Eliasson and his African Union (AU) counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim.

Earlier this week, the Security Council issued a presidential statement calling on all parties to engage fully and constructively in the talks and to first agree to a cessation of hostilities.

"The Council underlines its willingness to take action against any party that seeks to undermine the peace process, including by failing to respect such a cessation of hostilities or by impeding the talks, peacekeeping or humanitarian aid," the statement noted.

It added that the 15-member body was deeply concerned about delays in the deployment of the AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force, to be known as UNAMID, and urged Member States to make available the aviation and ground transport units still required for the mission.


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