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UN and AU envoys press forward with landmark Darfur peace talks

UN and AU envoys press forward with landmark Darfur peace talks

Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim
The United Nations and African Union (AU) envoys chairing historic talks aimed at resolving the crisis in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region today continued their substantive preparations in Sirte, Libya, in pressing ahead with the peace process.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and his AU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim today met with representatives from the Sudanese Government, civil society, international partners and rebel groups, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.

The topics addressed in their discussions included security and the sharing of wealth and power.

Preparations are also being made for a senior-level team to travel to Sudan to hold talks with those groups who are not attending the Sirte event.

Addressing the press yesterday, Mr. Eliasson stressed that despite the absence of several parties in Sirte, “I refuse to state that the peace process is interrupted. The train has left the station for the road to peace. The question is how many passengers will get on the train.”

Despite all sides not being in attendance at the talks, Mr. Salim stated that these sides “have made it clear to us their commitment to the process, that they would want to take part in the process so it is a question of how we make sure that they take part in the process.”

Since 2003, over 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million others forced to flee their homes in the violence-wracked Darfur region because of fighting among rebels, Government forces and allied militia known as the Janjaweed.

On the humanitarian front, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes today voiced strong concern over alleged forced relocations taking place in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Darfur.

“I am alarmed about the reports of forced relocation last night from Otash camp in Nyala, South Darfur, both about the manner in which the relocations were apparently carried out and the possibility that such action could contribute to more violence,” he said.

Otash camp shelters over 60,000 IDPs, and during the incident, the new IDPs from Kalma camp, the largest in Darfur, were surrounded by the police. A team comprising personnel from the UN, the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was denied access to the camp by the representative of the Humanitarian Aid Commission.

The team managed to enter the camp, and witnessed 10 vehicles with heavy machine guns surrounding a group of IDPs while eight large commercial trucks were being loaded with the belongings of IDP women and children. The police told the team that the people were being moved to Amakassara.

“While the United Nations notes the Government’s concern about the security situation in the camps, it is imperative that any relocation be wholly voluntary, in agreement with the internally displaced,” said Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“We have had many meetings with the Government of Sudan, stressing that any relocation should be voluntary and should adhere to the guiding principles of internal displacement,” he added. “Given that security forces where threatening the displaced with sticks and rubber hoses at Otash camp, the involuntary nature of this relocation is clear, and is contrary to agreements with the Government.”

Relocation is covered by the 2004 Memorandum of Understanding signed by the UN, IOM and the Sudanese Government. IOM is concerned by the reported force relocation of IDPs from Otash camp and is preparing a formal statement following an investigation, expressing particular concern that they and other members of the international community were denied access to the IDPs during the relocation.

Meanwhile in Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, met with the country’s President, Omar al-Bashir.

Mr. Qazi reiterated the UN’s commitment to assist the parties in implementing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended a 21-year civil war between North and South Sudan. He emphasized that the CPA is the basis for sustainable peace and stability in the country, as well as a significant achievement for the Sudanese people.

Agreeing to the significance of the CPA, President Bashir voiced hope that the relationship between his Government and the UN would continue to be characterized by dialogue and direct consultations.

The Special Representative also noted that he plans to visit Juba in the coming days to meet with Salva Kiir, First-Vice President of Sudan and President of the Government of Southern Sudan.

In another development, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Sudan told a General Assembly committee that Darfur “remains a region where gross violations of human rights are perpetrated by all parties,” including arbitrary arrest, torture, illegal taxation, extortion, forced displacement, killing and sexual violence.

“The conflict in Darfur has no military solution,” Sima Samar told the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee. “Political solutions are urgently needed.”

Also addressing the Committee, the Secretary-General’s Representative on the human rights of IDPs, Walter Kälin, said he would visit Darfur in the Spring of 2008 at the invitation of the Government.

“The situation of roughly 2 million IDPs in Darfur remains one of the most serious in the world,” he said, calling on all concerned to “take full advantage” of the peace talks, as well as the deployment of a hybrid AU-UN force, to create conditions to end violence against the displaced, to allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and to facilitate sustainable return.