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Door Open For Darfur Rebels To Join Peace Talks

'Door remains open' for Darfur rebels to join peace process, says UN official

Darfur's splintering rebel movements still have time to participate in the peace process aimed at ending the four-year conflict in western Sudan, but they owe it to the people of their region to quickly unify behind a common position, a spokesperson for the United Nations-African Union mediation team said today.

Ahmad Fawzi said last week's historic talks in Sirte, Libya, between the Sudanese Government, representatives of eight rebel groups, civil society, regional countries and the international community were just the first phase of a three-part process to try to quell the violence and suffering engulfing Darfur.

He said that while it was disappointing that so many of Darfur's fragmented rebel groups did not participate in the Sirte talks, they now had the second phase of the peace process - a series of planned consultations and workshops with and among the rebels - to work out a unified position on the major issues in dispute.

The third phase, in which full talks are supposed to take place in Sirte, is slated to begin in early December.

"The door remains open for those who wish to join the process," Mr. Fawzi told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York after returning from Sirte, where UN and AU envoys are still conducting meetings with many of the participating groups. He added that some rebel groups were indicating they were now prepared to attend.

UN and AU envoys are also travelling now to Juba in southern Sudan, where some of the rebel groups are based, for further consultations, before heading on to El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, for more diplomatic efforts.

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Mr. Fawzi acknowledged that many of the key issues are complex, including questions of wealth-sharing, governance and security arrangements for Darfur, where a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force (UNAMID) is slated to begin full operations in January. That force is expected to have as many as 25,000 troops and police officers.

"Time is on nobody's side. People are suffering in the camps," he said, referring to some of the estimated 2.2 million Darfurians who have had to flee their homes since rebels began fighting Government forces and allied militia known as the Janjaweed in 2003. At least another 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The conflict has been complicated by the splintering of the rebel groups from about three major movements into as many as 16 or more separate factions.

But Mr. Fawzi stressed that it was now time for the rebels to "get their act together" and determine who will represent them in the third phase as well as their common positions.

"There are cycles of interest in the international community. The international community is seized with Darfur at the moment. The international community is poised to pour millions of dollars in reconstruction and development aid in Darfur. The time is now for these parties to get engaged and to join the peace process."


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