Darfur parties agree on basics, adjourn talks

ABUJA (Reuters) — The parties to peace talks on Sudan’s Darfur region on Tuesday signed a declaration of principles, a breakthrough in negotiations aimed at settling a 2-1/2 year conflict that has killed tens of thousands.
But the broad declaration left the nitty-gritty of a comprehensive peace settlement for later and the talks were adjourned until August 24. “This is the beginning of the road to peace,” said Abdel Wahed Mohammad al-Nur, president of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel group, at a signing ceremony in the Nigerian capital Abuja where the talks are taking place.

It took more than three weeks for delegates from Sudan’s government and two rebel movements to agree on the document. Progress was slowed by lengthy discussions within the divided rebel groups.

“In order to gain momentum and give people sufficient time to prepare themselves, we shall recommence the next phase of our deliberations on August 24,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, head of the African Union (AU) mediation team.

The declaration includes calls for refugees to be brought home and for new security arrangements, as well as more long-term principles such as respect for different ethnic and religious groups and equitable distribution of national wealth.

“Broad security arrangements to consolidate the restoration of peace shall be addressed in the context of a comprehensive agreement,” the document says.

The SLA and a smaller rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), took up arms in early 2003, accusing Khartoum of discrimination and neglect. Rebels say the government responded by backing Arab militias to drive non-Arabs from their villages.

The conflict drove more than two million people from their homes into refugee camps inside Sudan and in neighbouring Chad, in what the United Nations calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Four previous rounds of AU-sponsored peace talks ended in stalemate.

Some factions in both the SLA and the JEM have said the delegates in Abuja did not represent the fighters on the ground, casting doubt on the value of any agreement.

But negotiators for the two movements have insisted they have a mandate from the grassroots and any deal will be respected in the field.

Further complicating the picture, fighters from the two groups have skirmished in Darfur while the talks have been going on, and some JEM members say they have fighters in eastern Sudan backing a separate rebellion against Khartoum.

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