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Darfur conflict is close to "moment of truth"- UN
May 8, 2007 / 6:47 PM / 10 years ago

Darfur conflict is close to "moment of truth"- UN

(Recasts with U.N. and AU envoys in Khartoum)

By Alaa Shahine

KHARTOUM, May 8 (Reuters) - The conflict in Darfur is approaching a "moment of truth" requiring Sudan and rebel groups to open peace talks, a senior United Nations official said on Tuesday.

Jan Eliasson, U.N. special envoy for Sudan, was speaking in Khartoum hours after rights group Amnesty International accused China and Russia of breaking a U.N. arms embargo on Darfur by letting weapons into Sudan.

Eliasson said had arrived with African Union special envoy Salim Ahmed Salim "in the spirit of action" and wanted to see movement that would help end the crisis.

"We are moving closer to the moment of truth, mainly when ... the parties have to start seriously to prepare for negotiations," he told reporters at the airport.

"We will among ourselves now take some concrete steps...I think the conflict has gone long enough. Impatience is great."

China, the biggest foreign investor in Sudan, denied the Amnesty accusations and said it would send military engineers as part of a U.N. package to support the AU force in Darfur.

A Russian Foreign Ministry official also denied the charges.

Amnesty said it was "deeply dismayed" by the flow of arms allowed by China and Russia, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and said the weapons were often diverted to be used in conflict in Darfur and neighbouring Chad.

The United Nations says some 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have fled their homes since the conflict flared in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of neglect. Sudan says only 9,000 have perished.

The U.N. accused Sudan in a report last month of violating the world body’s resolutions on the arms embargo on Darfur by flying weapons and other military equipment into the region.

Both the United Nations and the Amnesty reports said Khartoum was using planes painted white to make them look like U.N. aircraft to bomb and carry out surveillance in Darfur.

Sudan has rejected the U.N. charges. Officials were not immediately available to comment on the Amnesty report.



NOT SACRED

The diminishing possibility of deploying a large U.N. force in Darfur due to Sudan’s rejection has pushed efforts for a political solution to the forefront, with initiatives to unite the rebel groups for possible peace talks with the government.

Only one main group signed a 2006 peace agreement with the government in the Nigerian capital Abuja although small factions later committed to the deal. Other rebels say they want a bigger share of power and more compensations.

The government has said it was only prepared for minor changes to the agreement, but the AU’s Salim said the concerns of the non-signatory factions could be addressed.

"The Abuja agreement is an important agreement but it is neither the Koran nor the Bible," he said. The fragmentation of the rebel groups along with government attacks against their positions have thwarted previous attempts to bring those factions to the negotiating table.

But the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan has said unity talks among the Darfur rebels could be held in the south by July. Several commanders have agreed in principle to attend, a group of independent mediators said.

Despite its opposition to the U.N. force of some 20,000 troops and police, Sudan has agreed to allow a "heavy" U.N. support package of about 3,500 military personnel to be deployed in Darfur to help the under-funded 7,000 AU force.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing and Kate Kelland in London)



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