AU tables new, improved ceasefire plan for Darfur

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ABUJA, Mar 12 (Reuters) Mediators in peace talks on Sudan's Darfur region today presented the warring parties with a detailed ceasefire proposal designed to work better than an existing, often violated agreement.

The African Union (AU), which has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur and is mediating peace talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja, said demilitarisation of humanitarian supply routes and of displaced persons' camps were key elements of the plan.

''Our proposals are fair, workable and in compliance with the previous commitments entered into by the parties,'' the AU's chief mediator Salim Ahmed Salim told the parties, according to an AU statement.

''If any party refuses to sign the enhanced humanitarian ceasefire agreement, we will have no option but to conclude that it is not interested in peace and the wellbeing of the people of Darfur,'' Salim said.

The AU and the United Nations are increasing pressure on the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels to speed up peace talks.

On Friday, the AU extended its mission in Darfur until Sept. 30 and set a deadline of end-April for the peace talks to conclude.

Today's AU statement was entitled: ''AU tells the Sudanese parties in Abuja: Time is up.'' Two Darfur rebel groups took up arms in early 2003 over what they described as discrimination and neglect.

The Sudanese government is accused by US and UN officials of responding to the rebellion by arming Janjaweed, militiamen who killed, raped, pillaged and drove 2 million people into squalid camps. Khartoum denies that it controls the Janjaweed.

A ceasefire was signed in April 2004 but the AU says all sides have continued fighting. In recent months security has deteriorated to the point that many parts of Darfur are off-limits for aid workers.

REUTERS CH RK2008

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