Displaced Darfuris seek seat at peace talks

OTASH CAMP, Sudan Wed Sep 12, 2007 2:13pm EDT

1 of 3. Displaced Sudanese children stare at the convey of Britain's Minister of State for African Affairs Mark Malloch Brown near south Darfur's Otash September 11, 2007. Displaced Darfuris in the dusty, squalid camp in Sudan's war-torn west have demanded a seat at peace talks between Khartoum and Darfur rebel groups, warning negotiations could fail without their participation.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin

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OTASH CAMP, Sudan (Reuters) - Displaced Darfuris in a dusty, squalid camp in Sudan's war-torn west have demanded a seat at peace talks between Khartoum and Darfur rebel groups, warning negotiations could fail without their participation.

Khartoum released a joint communique with the United Nations last week saying it will start talks with Darfur rebels on October 27 in Libya to push for peace before a 26,000-strong U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force deploys to Darfur.

"There is no representative for us there. No one came and consulted us. If some of us were present at the talks it would help them succeed," Al-Bashir Al-Nagi, a local community leader, told Reuters.

He predicted the planned talks, as construed, are "not going to succeed. They will fail like the last ones."

Several Darfur sheikhs made similar pleas to visiting British Foreign Office Minister for Africa Mark Malloch Brown on Tuesday as they gathered in a small hut at the Otash displaced persons camp in south Darfur to air grievances.

"We would like to participate in the peace-building process," one local sheikh told Malloch Brown.

Otash residents in South Darfur, which humanitarian workers say has seen more killing and displacement than other areas of Darfur this year, said they feel increasingly disconnected from the rebel leaders, several of whom live abroad, and they want their own representation at the talks.

International experts estimate some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have fled their homes in over four years of ethnic and political violence in Darfur, which the United States calls genocide.

Khartoum rejects the charge and says Western media overplay the conflict. The International Criminal Court is investigating war crimes allegations in the region.

Only one Darfur rebel leader, Minni Arcua Minnawi, leader of a Sudan Liberation Movement breakaway group, signed a 2006 peace deal with the government. His arch-rival, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, who lives in Paris and commands huge popularity in the camps, refused to sign.

Since then, Darfur's three main rebel factions have split into more than a dozen groups in disputes that have fuelled lawlessness in the remote region, and some former Nur supporters in Otash now say they feel disappointed by his leadership.

"Negotiations are important but we are tired of Abdel Wahed," Otash resident Amina Mohamed Ahmed said.

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