Darfur rebel factions meeting in Tanzania have reached a common negotiating position for final peace talks with the Sudanese government which they want to hold within three months, international mediators said yesterday.
The rebel factions had been meeting at a luxury resort in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha to try and bury past differences over the leadership and direction of the vast western region of Sudan.
UN envoy to Darfur Jan Eliasson said the groups reached "a common platform" for negotiations, encompassing power and wealth sharing, security, land and humanitarian issues.
"They... recommended that final talks should be held between two to three months from now," Eliasson told the closing session of the four-day meeting organized by the United Nations and the African Union (AU).
The rebels gave few details, saying several groups would stay in Arusha to work them out.
There was no immediate reaction from Khartoum. The government has said it was ready to talk to the rebels, though not to substantially change what was already agreed in a May 2006 peace deal with one rebel faction.
The conflict started four years ago when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting Darfur. The government mobilized mostly Arab militias to quell the revolt.
Since the 2006 peace deal, insurgents have split into more than a dozen groups with myriad demands.
Analysts have said the Arusha meeting's chance of success was hampered by the absence of some important rebel figures, but nonetheless succeeded in boosting unity.
"The key ... is who they are going to send to negotiations to represent them all," International Crisis Group analyst Hannah Stogdon said.
"If they can agree on that publicly, that is a good sign."
Diplomats said the presence of field commanders helped bridge a political-military divide in the movements.
"There was more consultation among themselves than with us," AU special envoy to Darfur Salim Ahmed Salim told reporters.
The rebels meeting in Tanzania also decided to keep the door open for those who were invited but did not participate to join a common platform, he said.
Khartoum accused Paris of failing to encourage one prominent leader living in France, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, to attend. He has only a few troops, but commands huge support among Darfuris forced into refugee camps. Analysts say his blessing is essential to the success of any peace deal.
"We want to send a message to our brother Abdel Wahed. We are in need of his participation. We have agreed to meet him anywhere," SLA commander Jar el-Neby said in Arusha.
The large Sudan Liberation Army-Unity faction eventually relented on its refusal to participate in the talks in protest at the virtual imprisonment of its humanitarian coordinator, Suleiman Jamous, in a UN hospital near Darfur.
Salim and Eliasson said they were making efforts to get him freed in talks with Khartoum due to start on Tuesday.
Khalil Abdallah from the new umbrella United Front for Liberation and Development urged foreign powers to pressure the government to negotiate seriously. Eliasson and Salim now have to convince Khartoum to agree to negotiate the points specified by the rebels.
The government has said it will not reopen the deal signed last year, but would only consider making additions to it.
(China Daily via agencies August 7, 2007)