Sudanese rebel leaders in Darfur agree to start political negotiations - UN

Sudanese rebel leaders in Darfur agree to start political negotiations - UN

Farchana camp, hosting 11,800 Sudanese refugees
The leadership of two rebel groups in Sudan's Darfur region today agreed to take part in substantive negotiations to resolve the political dispute that has led what is widely considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The breakthrough follows a day of talks in Geneva with officials from the African Union (AU) and the United Nations, including Mohamed Sahnoun, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Africa, according to a UN spokesman.

AU and UN officials will now discuss with the Sudanese Government exactly where and when substantive talks can take place between Khartoum and the leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Thousands of people have died and at least 1.2 million people have fled their homes after more than a year of fighting between Sudanese Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and the SPLM and JEM.

Spokesman Fred Eckhard said the Security Council is also circulating and discussing, at experts' level, the contents of a draft resolution on Sudan that aims to end Janjaweed attacks against civilians and improve security.

In another development, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Francis Deng, will tomorrow start a week-long visit to Sudan to assess the situation in Darfur and in the south, where a separate, long-running civil war is considered to be nearing an end thanks to fruitful peace talks in Kenya.

Mr. Deng will hold meetings in Khartoum and also tour several IDP camps in Darfur, a remote region in western Sudan roughly equal in size to France.

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian agencies say they remain $203 million short of the funding needed to provide relief for the rest of the year to an estimated 2 million people affected by the conflict in Darfur.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it has so far received less than 40 per cent of the amount it requested in earlier appeals for Sudan and neighbouring Chad, where more than 180,000 refugees currently live.

OCHA said there are continuing reports that Janjaweed militias, who are mainly Arab, are harassing IDPs - who are mostly black African - at camps in South and North Darfur.

The Janjaweed already stand accused of killing and raping countless civilians, poisoning wells and destroying homes during attacks against villages across Darfur. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has previously said these attacks "bordered on ethnic cleansing."

UN relief workers operating in North Darfur have been advised by UN security officers to travel in two-vehicle convoys on certain roads to avoid attacks from the Janjaweed.

UN humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are continuing to install latrines and clean water facilities and distributing food and emergency supplies across Darfur and Chad.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also announced it is sending officials to eastern Chad today to talk to local authorities about the agency's concerns about security levels in nine refugee camps.

Two refugees from Darfur were killed yesterday at Farchana camp after Chadian Government forces tried to quell a recent wave of violent unrest at some of the camps.