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World News

Darfur rebel leader demands delay in peace talks

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A Darfur rebel leader called for a postponement of planned October peace talks with Sudan’s government on Thursday, demanding a “few months of total calm” in the strife-torn region before negotiations start.

Displaced Sudanese children stare at the convey near south Darfur's Otash September 11, 2007. A Darfur rebel leader called for a postponement of planned October peace talks with Sudan's government on Thursday, demanding a "few months of total calm" in the strife-torn region before negotiations start. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin

Ahmed Abdel Shafie, head of a breakaway faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, became the third senior rebel leader to raise concerns over the appropriateness of U.N. and African Union-brokered talks planned for Libya on October 27.

Abdel Shafie’s faction said in a statement that continued violence in Sudan’s remote west meant that “the parties to the conflict in Darfur are not yet prepared to enter into genuine political negotiations”.

“The timing of the forthcoming round of peace negotiations ... needs to be reconsidered,” it added.

The comments came a week after the head of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Khalil Ibrahim said that continued clashes with government troops might make it impossible for him to leave his fighters to attend the talks.

Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, another SLM faction leader who lives in Paris, has said he would refuse to attend any peace talks before the arrival of 26,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers, the disarmament of government-backed militias and guarantees of security across the region.

Five rebel groups, including JEM and SLM factions, held a second day of negotiations in the Chadian capital N’Djamena on Thursday to hammer out a common position on the peace talks.

The SLM’s Abdel Shafie told Reuters he had not attended the Chad meeting because his faction wanted to concentrate on unifying its own position. Instead, he sent his demands directly to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ahead of a conference on Darfur between the U.N. and the African Union due to take place in New York on Friday.

NOT A THREAT TO PULL OUT

Abdel Shafie said he was not yet threatening to pull out of the Libya talks, and wanted to wait to see whether his demands could be met.

“We are demanding a few months of calm, but the precise period of time is up for negotiation. What we are saying is that if our demands are not met, it will be very hard for these peace talks to succeed.”

Specific demands include an immediate ceasefire, confidence-building measures, and an end to what rebels say is a government policy of resettling foreigners in Darfur.

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last week promised to observe a ceasefire in Darfur from the start of peace talks. Reports of clashes between government troops and rebel factions have continued to emerge from Sudan’s remote west in the run up to the talks.

Late on Wednesday, Abdel Shafie said his fighters had attacked a battalion of government soldiers that he said were blocking key supply routes in Darfur’s central Jabel Marra region. An armed forces spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced in ethnic and political conflict in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglecting the region.

The Sudanese government says 9,000 people have died.

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