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Lack of Mutual Confidence Dooms Darfur Talks

The second round of the Sudanese peace talks on the Darfur crisis in west Sudan ended in the past weekend in Abuja, capital of Nigeria, "with little progress."  

The tripartite talks between the government of Sudan and two rebel groups -- the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLMA) -- which took off on Aug. 23, were aimed at resolving the 18-month-old conflict that had taken lives of thousands and displaced one million.


In addition, recent media reports quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that more people, mostly children, are dying from diseases and violence in Darfur.


The set "meaningful achievement" designed by the African Union (AU) was apparently not made because of what analysts called "deep-rooted mutual suspicion among the conflicting parties."


According to Patrick Chikendu, lecturer of the Department of Political Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Nigeria, "the core problem is that of mutual distrust and lack of confidence among the parties."


At the beginning of the talks, it took a lot of underground pressure by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who is also chairman of the AU, to get the talks to go on.


After several days of hard bargaining, an agenda was drawn listing humanitarian issue, security issue, political question and economic and social affairs as its focal points.


A protocol was expected to be drawn up on each of the four items on the agenda and signed by each of the parties.


The main disagreement was what the focus should be. While the opposition groups felt immediate emphasis should be placed on security issue "as such would pave way for other issues," the government of Sudan had insisted placing such immediate priority on humanitarian issue.


On its side the Sudanese government believes by its deploying 40,000 soldiers and 11,000 policemen in the Darfur region, adequate security had been provided not only to restore law and order but also to facilitate humanitarian work.


To buttress their point, the opposition groups had argued that without settling the security issue, it would be impossible to carry out humanitarian assignments.


"To sign any agreement before that of security hardly makes any sense since the problem of Darfur, for which we are all here is that of security," said Ahmed Tugod, leader of the JEM negotiation team.


Another thorny issue was that of disarming rebel groups in the region, which the government says it can conveniently handle.


However, the opposition groups didn't show much confidence in the government, insisting that the government has been sponsoring the "Janjaweed militias as a counter force against to all other forces fighting the government."


It has to be pointed out that the essence of the humanitarian protocol was to facilitate the supply of aid to the more than one million Internally Displaced People in Darfur camps. There was equally the need to safeguard human rights.


Because of the hard stance of both sides, there was therefore, no meeting point and as a result, the talks had to end without the signing of any protocol.


Hammid Aligabid, AU special envoy to Darfur and the chairman of the talks, made an apparent reference to the issue when, in the press statement to mark the end of the talks, he called for specific "measures aimed at building confidence between the parties and restoring trust among the local communities."


As the parties embark on a month-long recess, there is every need for all sides to take seriously the issue of confidence building.


As Chikendu said, this is the only means for entry into the road map to Darfur peace talks.


Such entry is desirable if a breakthrough is to be recorded in the crisis that has engaged world attention in recent times.


(Xinhua News Agency September 21, 2004)

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Darfur Peace Talk in Nigeria Ends Without Progress
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