Delegates from the Sudanese government at the peace talks to end a 20-month crisis in Darfur said Thursday it would sign a humanitarian protocol in the hope of easing supply of aid to the troubled region, even if the two rebels there refused to cosign it.
The talks sponsored by the African Union (AU) began Monday in Abuja, capital of Nigeria, but like the first round, which ran between Aug. 23 and Sept. 17, have witnessed little progress.
The Sudanese government and the rebels, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), have been accusing each other of foot-dragging and wasting time.
And now, the government side wants to show its seriousness. "We are going to sign the humanitarian issue tomorrow even if it is one side that will sign it," said Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim, spokesman for the government delegation.
On what effect the protocol would have if signed only unilaterally, Ibrahim said that such would put the rebels under pressure.
"That will put them under pressure. They can not go back from Abuja without signing anything," he said.
The Sudanese Agriculture Minister and the leader of the government delegation, Majzoub El-Khalifa, also confirmed his side's readiness to sign the humanitarian protocol.
"Even if they (rebels) do not agree, we are going to sign the protocol," he said.
"We are wasting too much time. The talks were supposed to last for 15 days, now we have spent one week and achieved nothing."
Spokesman for the JEM, Ahmed Tugod, however, expressed optimism that the gray areas stopping the signing of the humanitarian protocol would be ironed out.
"What we want is to save lives and to guarantee that safety tomorrow," he stated.
But SLM Chairman Abdolwahid Mohamed insisted that the humanitarian protocol should not be signed until the security arrangement was completed, claiming that the government was "not cooperating."
"We want good security arrangement so that the security protocol will be signed, but the government is wasting time," he claimed.
Delegates at the peace talks on said that they would begin to discuss the political issue involving power and wealth sharing Friday morning.
Meanwhile, the African Union drew up a new draft security protocol and discussed it with the Sudanese government and the rebels separately Thursday afternoon following the one-hour formal talks.
The AU expressed its "utmost concern over the repeated violations of the relevant provisions of the humanitarian ceasefire agreement, signed in N'djamena, Chad, on April 8, 2004, and the prevailing insecurity in Darfur, notable the persistent attacks and other abuses against civilians," said the draft protocol seen by Xinhua.
The draft protocol demanded the immediate disarmament of a militia force known as Janjaweed by the Sudanese government as well as the rebels. The Janjaweed was believed to be responsible for killings and looting in Darfur, but the government denied relations with it.
The disagreement on the point of disarmament led to the collapse of the first round of peace talks.
Also on Thursday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail began a tour of six African nations from Nigeria and held talks with his Nigerian counterpart Bola Adeniji. Following the meeting, he flew to Benin and will in the next five days visit Senegal, the Gambia, Gabon and Niger.
A government delegate at the Abuja talks said the tour was designed to hear advice from them so that "all the problems in Sudan were solved by the end of this year."
In the same day, a batch of 47 Nigerian troops left for Darfur to beef up the strength of the AU troops already in the area to protect about 150 observers, who are monitoring the ceasefire agreement.
The AU has deployed some 300 soldiers there and last week agreed to send more than 3,000 extra troops, drawn from Nigeria and Rwanda.
Clashes in Darfur flared up in February 2003, and has so far caused thousands of deaths and sent about one million fleeing to neighboring Chad or internally displaced.
(Xinhua News Agency October 29, 2004)