ARUSHA, Tanzania (Reuters) - Field commanders from Darfur rebel factions flew in for a second day of unity talks on Saturday, boosting hopes they will agree a bargaining position ahead of peace negotiations with the Sudanese government.
Around a dozen rebel groups are attending the African Union and United Nations-sponsored meeting in the Tanzanian resort of Arusha, which is due to continue until Sunday. The AU and U.N. also hope to set a date and venue for peace talks with Khartoum.
The internal discussions have taken on a new importance in efforts to end the four-year-old war in western Sudan since the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday approved the deployment of 26,000 peacekeeping troops and police to stem the bloodshed.
Fissures between the Darfur rebels sank a previous peace deal in May 2006, which was signed by only one rebel group.
Key field commanders including Jar el-Neby and Suleiman Marajan joined members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and factions of the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement at the talks on Saturday. Analysts say their presence is needed to bring together the political and military sides of each faction.
“We are a group that came out of the field so that we could unify the movement,” SLA commander Saleh Adem Isaac told reporters after arriving in Arusha.
“For me, the meeting is about everyone organizing the movement into one on the political side, because you know there are many problems between the movements.”
Broader concerns over Darfur were also voiced on Saturday. Dutch media reported former U.N. envoy for Sudan Jan Pronk was concerned about the effectiveness of the new peacekeeping force because Khartoum had obstructed previous U.N. resolutions.
“It will take a very long time before that mission is fully operational,” Pronk said in an interview with Dutch daily Trouw.
“(The Sudanese government) has not executed any of the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions. Everything, they have flouted everything,” the paper quoted Pronk as saying.
In Arusha, U.N. Darfur envoy Jan Eliasson and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim were holding talks with each rebel faction ahead of a planned meeting on Sunday of all parties.
The Darfur war erupted in early 2003 when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, which they accused of neglect. The government responded by arming largely Arab militias known as Janjaweed to attack the rebels.
Independent experts say 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been displaced. Sudan says only 9,000 have been killed.
Sudan offered the rebels a concession on Wednesday, saying it might let elderly SLA aid coordinator Suleiman Jamous leave hospital without threat of arrest once the talks were underway.
But by Saturday it was still not clear if he would reach the meeting, which diplomats said should finish on time on Sunday.
Jamous is credited with helping stop violence against aid workers, and analysts say he offers the best hope of SLA unity.
Sudan Liberation Movement leader Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, whose is also seen as key, has already refused to attend.
Additional reporting by Lillian Urio and Njua Maina in Arusha and Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam