Ban says Darfur violence threatens peace talks

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 (Reuters) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned today recent fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, warning it could derail peace talks he has announced will start in Libya next month.

A UN statement said Ban was ''deeply concerned'' about the violence, whose timing was ''particularly troubling as it could create conditions that are not conducive to the success of the upcoming political negotiations''.

His statement focused on incidents in Haskanita, Northern Darfur, on September 10 and 11, when African Union peacekeepers said aerial bombardments involving helicopter gunships and ground clashes had apparently killed a number of civilians.

Ban also mentioned attacks that rebel groups said the government had carried out last month in Adila, Southern Darfur, and a rebel assault on Wad Banda in neighboring Kordofan region. All, he said, ''endanger the peace process.'' International observers have said the Haskanita attack was likely in retaliation for the Wad Banda assault on a government base, which killed 41 people.

Ban announced the peace talks in a joint statement with Sudan's government in Khartoum on September 6. He reminded Khartoum that in that statement it had promised a full cessation of hostilities ahead of the talks, due to start October 27.

''The Secretary-General strongly urges all parties to show restraint and cease all military action in order to create a positive atmosphere for the envisaged political negotiations,'' today's statement said.

More than four years of ethnic and political conflict in Darfur has left 200,000 dead and driven another 2.5 million from their homes, international experts say. Khartoum says that is an exaggeration and puts the death toll at 9,000.

REUTERS RC BST0148

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