Before winding up a visit to Sudan which was termed by Sudanese officials as "historic", UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced with Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir on Thursday that the peace talks to end the four year conflict in Darfur will restart on October 27 in Libya.
"The UN welcomes the decision to issue invitations from the (UN) Secretary General and Chairperson of the AU (African Union)Commission for the renewed peace talks on 27 October 2007 in Libya," a joint communique issued by Ban and al-Bashir announced.
The communique, which was issued at the end of the second meeting between Ban and al-Bashir, came unsurprisingly since some Sudanese officials including Sudan's UN representative, Abdul al-Mahmoud Abdul al-Halim, had disclosed to the press on the outcome before the UN chief's arrival.
However, local observers still considered the four-day visit "extraordinary" because the announcement made by the UN rather than an AU official showed some changes of the stand of the Sudanese government which has staunchly persisted in an overwhelming role of the AU regarding the Darfur issue.
"Mr. Ban Ki-moon and President al-Bashir announced the date and place of the next round of the Darfur peace talks without an AU official standing beside them. This can be interpreted that Khartoum is glad to see a bigger role of the UN in Darfur," said a prominent Sudanese political analyst who refused to be identified.
The analyst attributed the dramatic change to a rational attitude on the Darfur issue expressed by the UN chief in recent weeks, which was certainly helpful to enhance the UN role in Darfur.
But he ruled out the possibility that the Sudanese government would allow the UN to surpass the AU in dealing with the Darfur crisis, saying "the chronic lack of mutual confidence between the two sides can not be healed by only one visit."
On the first day of his visit in Sudan, Ban reiterated his view on the Darfur conflict in his address at a rally attended by UN workers, foreign diplomats and Sudanese officials.
He said that the conflict in Darfur began "in part because of drought. When the rain failed, farmers and herders fell into competition for an increasingly scarce resource."
The UN chief outlined a three-point plan for solving the Darfur conflict -- carrying out an international peacekeeping operation, seeking a political solution through the peace negotiations and promoting humanitarian aid and development.
In the joint communique, Ban pledged that the UN would "do its utmost, together with the African Union and cooperate with the Government of Sudan, to deploy the Hybrid Operation in a timely fashion in support of peace consolidation in Darfur."
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on July 31authorizing the deployment of a 26000-strong hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur to carry out the joint UN-AU peace operation.
The Sudanese government and the AU have agreed that a majority of the hybrid force would come from African countries.
Ban also pledged that the UN would "continue to promote the consolidation of peace and long term development in Sudan, by supporting the sustainable development of natural resources, especially water resources, addressing the impact of climate change and environmental degradation, encouraging donors to fulfill their commitments."
The Sudanese side "pledges to prepare for and participate constructively in renewed negotiations on Darfur under the mediation of the AU and UN Special Envoys, and work with the United Nations and the African Union to facilitate the timely deployment of the Hybrid Operation," according to the communique.
Although the date and place of the next negotiations were defined in the communique, it is still unknown whether all the rebel groups in Darfur will agree on their participation.
The UN and the AU had promised in July that the UN secretary general and Alfa Omar Konare, AU Commissioner, would send by the end of August invitations to the parties concerned to attend the next round of the Darfur peace negotiations.
The deadline was missed because of differences among the Darfur rebels, whose factions have increased to more than a dozen from three during the past year.
Some of the Darfur rebel groups during their meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, last month agreed to resume the peace talks within two to three months, while others boycotted the Arusha meeting and have not announced their positions on the next negotiations.
Ban arrived in Khartoum on Monday on his first official visit in the African country since he took office in January this year. He held two meetings with the Sudanese president and paid a field tour in south Sudan and Darfur.
(Xinhua News Agency September 7 2007)