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No deal yet as Darfur enemies face peace deadline

Written by: Staff
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ABUJA, Apr 30 (Reuters) Peace talks on Sudan's Darfur region entered what was supposed to be their final day today with the warring parties hurrying to obtain more than what was offered in a settlement drafted by African Union (AU) mediators.

The AU has set today as a deadline for the Sudanese government and three Darfur rebel factions to wrap up negotiations on security, power-sharing and wealth-sharing that have dragged on for two years while the conflict has escalated.

In the Nigerian capital Abuja, venue of the talks, diplomats pushed the parties to strike a deal, while in the United States demonstrations were planned to call for an end to violence that President George W. Bush labels ''genocide''.

The government has accepted in principle a draft agreement presented by the AU but diplomatic sources say it is trying to secure amendments to a section on disarming the Janjaweed, militias Khartoum is accused of using to fight the rebels.

The sources say the government wants distinctions to be drawn between the Janjaweed, who are accused of atrocities against civilians, and other tribal militias that Khartoum does not believe it would be helpful or even possible to disarm.

The rebels have yet to respond officially to the 85-page document but several of their leaders complain that it does not meet their key demands.

On security, diplomats say the rebels want more favourable terms for a planned integration of some of their forces into the Sudanese army and a trade-off may be possible between their demand and the government's requirements on the Janjaweed issue.

The rebels say they are talking amongst themselves to seek a consensus on whether to sign. Decision-making is an arduous process for them as they are split into two movements and three factions with a history of infighting.

Apart from security, their main problem with the document is that it does not meet their demands for Darfur to get a new post of Sudanese vice president and a new regional government. They have other objections on issues such as compensation.

WILL THEY OR WON'T THEY? No one was willing to say early on Sunday whether the parties were likely to meet the deadline. Several previous deadlines have passed without any apparent impact on the talks, but this time the AU has said it is not business as usual.

The mediators say they have nothing more to achieve by listening to the parties' positions any longer and if the sides reject this draft, the AU Peace and Security Council will decide on a new strategy for the Darfur peace process.

Rebels took up arms in early 2003 in ethnically mixed Darfur, an arid region the size of France, over what they saw as neglect by the Arab-dominated central government.

Khartoum used proxy militias drawn from Arab tribes to crush the rebellion. The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people while a campaign of arson, looting and rape has driven more than 2 million from their homes into refugee camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad.

All sides have continued fighting despite a 2004 ceasefire, according to the AU which has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur.

The US government and civil society have recently sought to increase pressure on Khartoum to end the violence. Aid groups say increased fighting has made it impossible to deliver food and medicine to tens of thousands of refugees.

Bush said ''genocide in Sudan is unacceptable'' and endorsed a series of ''Save Darfur'' rallies taking place across the United States on Sunday, organised by a coalition of more than 160 religious and humanitarian groups.

REUTERS CH PM1555

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