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Darfur rebel resists pressure to join peace deal

Written by: Staff
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ABUJA, May 14 : A rebel leader from Sudan's Darfur region has rebuffed the latest proposals from African Union (AU) mediators for him to join a peace deal despite intense pressure by diplomats desperate to gain wider support for the accord.

Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) refused the peace settlement signed on May 5 by the Sudanese government and rival SLA factional leader Minni Arcua Minnawi to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands.

The rejection of the accord by Nur and by smaller rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) raised fears it would not end the war. The agreement was greeted with violent demonstrations in several Darfur refugee camps.

The SLA and the JEM took up arms in early 2003 accusing the Arab-dominated central government of neglecting Darfur, an arid region the size of France in western Sudan.

Khartoum backed militias known as Janjaweed, drawn from Arab tribes, to crush the rebellion. The ensuing campaign of murder, looting, rape and arson has driven more than 2 million from their homes into refugee camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad.

Nur says he will sign the peace deal, but only if first the government accepts some of his key demands in an annex accord.

The demands include greater compensation from Khartoum for Darfur war victims and greater SLA involvement in monitoring the disarmament of the Janjaweed and the return home of refugees.

''At this stage we are not signing because we get nothing, but we are trying to push the government to make some concessions ... If the government accepts and signs, then Abdel Wahed will sign,'' said close adviser Ibrahim Madibo today.

TOMORROW DEADLINE

This looks unlikely to happen before a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia tomorrow that is considered a deadline to add new signatures to the deal. Early today, senior AU mediators who had been focusing full-time on Nur since May 5 left the Nigerian capital Abuja, venue of the peace talks that led to the accord.

But in a sign that intense efforts to gain Nur's acceptance would continue until the last minute, one of the mediators was called back into town as he was about to check into his flight to leave Nigeria.

''I am here for another day,'' he said.

The mediators had argued that Nur should sign first and negotiate with the government later. They say the agreement cannot be renegotiated as two parties have signed it, but there is room for extra concessions during the implementation phase.

''Our fear is that if he signs, the government will not give anything afterwards,'' Madibo told Reuters.

Nur is weak militarily but his endorsement of the agreement is important because he is a member of the Fur tribe, Darfur's largest.

His rival Minnawi has more fighters but he is from the smaller Zaghawa ethnic group.

Nur and Minnawi loathe each other but Minnawi wants Nur to sign because he does not want spoilers undermining the accord. However, it would be hard for him to swallow any concessions made to his rival after he has already signed the agreement.

This has made the last week of discussions involving Nur, Minnawi, Khartoum and international diplomats very delicate.

Minnawi, meanwhile, is in Chad trying to win support for the accord from President Idriss Deby, who is battling insurgents in a crisis that has become interlocked with the Darfur conflict.

Deby accuses Sudan of backing the Chadian rebels, a charge Khartoum denies. Meanwhile, the Darfur rebels from the Zaghawa tribe have rallied around Deby, who is also Zaghawa.

However, there have been tensions between Minnawi and Deby and observers fear that the Chadian president could act as a spoiler for the Darfur peace deal unless he is pacified.

Reuters

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