Darfur talks must not be allowed to falter, says church agency

By staff writers
August 3, 2007

A leading churches development agency has said that deadline pressures must not thwart a joint African Union/United Nations meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, on Friday 3 August 2007. The gathering will try to establish a framework for peace talks between the Darfur rebel groups and the government of Sudan.

Christian Aid, a UK-based international relief, development anadvocacy NGO, says it believes it is vital that the meeting is viewed as just the initial step in talks which may ultimately lead to a peace agreement. According to the ‘roadmap plan’ this is part of the pre-negotiation phase.

But Christian Aid is concerned that the same deadline pressures are being applied as during the Abuja negotiations. The peace agreement reached in Abuja in May 2005 resulted in just one rebel party signing up and was poorly received by the people in Darfur.

"The meetings are scheduled to last only three days and we are still not sure which rebel groups will eventually attend," explained Judith Melby, Christian Aid’s Africa specialist. "It is essential that expectations are not raised and that the special envoys from the AU and the UN realise that it may not be possible to enter the final negotiation phase at the end of these meetings."

Jan Eliasson, a former Swedish foreign minister who is the UN special envoy for Sudan, and Salim Salim, a former Tanzanian prime minister, have managed to convince at least six of the main rebel leaders to come to Arusha. Diplomats said the groups had similar demands but needed to prepare a ‘co-ordinated negotiating position’.

If the Arusha meeting succeeds, the AU and UN will send out invitations next month for talks with the government in September 2007.

Abdul Wahid al Nur, who represents the Fur tribe, is the only senior leader refusing to go to Arusha. As he is regarded by many of the displaced Darfurians as their representative his absence would be damaging, although he has few military forces. Abdul Shafi, a top Fur field commander who broke with Mr Wahid last year, is expected to attend.

The danger is that unless there is an agreement reached on the genuine representatives of the rebel groups, the meeting may disintegrate. According to a human rights activist in Khartoum, Darfur is now more like Somalia with countless warlords.

The international community still have a role to play the process although the AU and the UN are the chief mediators.

"The UK and France should use what ever leverage they have over Chad and Eritrea to encourage them to help build a consensus among the Darfur rebels," said Ms Melby.

On 31 July 2007 the UN Security Council approved the creation of a hybrid AN/UN force for Darfur. The Arusha talks have taken on added urgency as there is little point in having a peacekeeping force if there is no peace to keep.

"It is also important that the AU/UN mediation team release a progress report so that Darfurians and the international community can hold them accountable for the progress of the talks," added Ms Melby.

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