African Union (AU) mediators were trying hard to save the Darfur peace talks from collapsing Sunday after the Sudanese government announced its agreement to unconditioned halt of its military operations in the Darfur region.
But shortly after Khartoum's announcement, an African Union spokesman said that the latest reports indicated that fighting was continuing and an AU helicopter had been shot.
"One of our helicopters has been shot. They are firing on our helicopters. This shows that the ceasefire is not being observed. They did not comply. They have not stopped fighting," AU spokesman Assane Ba told reporters in Abuja, the venue of the fourth round of the peace talks.
The spokesman said the report was based on initial information from the AU observer force in Darfur, but he did not give the details about the incident.
After a meeting of the joint mechanism between the Sudanese government and the United Nations in Khartoum on Sunday, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Ismail told reporters that government forces will halt its offensives in the troubled Darfur region and respect the agreement signed by the parties in Ndjamena in April.
"We will immediately inform our forces to stop fighting and we will not fire unless we are attacked," said Ismail.
However, he denied the alleged intention to pull out the government's forces from the areas they recaptured from the Darfur rebels recently.
In Abuja, AU mediators concentrated on trying to get the talks back on track.
AU spokesman Ba confirmed to reporters that an "African country" had been asked to help get the talks moving again by mediating between the parties.
The rebels, who since Tuesday have been refusing to continue the peace talks with Khartoum delegates in protest at the latest offensive, have however not kept the door close.
"Our position as the two movements is that we have the will to reach the end of this round of talks," said Mohammed Ahmed Tugod, chief negotiator of one of the two opposition groups the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), adding that a decision on whether on not to revive the political process was now resting with the AU.
The AU has hoped the warring parties from Sudan could reach a lasting political settlement including power and wealth sharing by December 22. But that seems impossible as they have been trading accusations over violations of ceasefire agreements.
The situation remained tense and unpredictable in all three provinces of Darfur in a conflict, which was called the world's worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations.
The conflict in Darfur has left thousands dead and one million others displaced.
Locked in the conflict are the JEM and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, who are at war with government forces allegedly to be represented by the Arab militia called Janjaweed since February 2003.
(Xinhua News Agency December 20, 2004)