The Sudanese government and rebels from its western region of Darfur on Thursday launched the sixth round of peace talks in Nigeria which appear threatened by splits among the rebel ranks.
"The inter-Sudanese talks have been extremely difficult and at times seem to have been conducted with complete disregard to the imperative of the situation on the ground in Darfur," Baba-Gana Kingibe, a top African Union (AU) official, told the opening session in Abuja.
The session, billed to formally open at 3:00 PM local time (15:00 GMT) at the Sheraton Hotel, were shifted till 6:00 PM (18:00GMT) as some rebel delegates could not arrive in time. The 30-member Sudanese government delegation arrived in the Nigerian capital earlier.
The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the bigger of the two main rebel groups in Darfur, has warned the talks in jeopardy as Khartoum continued to attack its positions despite a ceasefire.
There is also a voice of disunity among the group itself. It's said that the SLA the membership is split between supporters of president Abdel Wahed Mohamed al-Nur and secretary general Minni Minnawi, who are expected to hold an internal meeting scheduled for Sunday in Darfur to resolve their differences.
The smaller Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) reportedly had just overcome its troubles of split.
Earlier, AU spokesman Mousa Hamani Alzouma told reporters that "after the formal opening ceremony, the negotiations, which will center on the substantive issues of power and wealth sharing and security, will be preceded by workshops for the participants."
The African Union has brokered a shaky ceasefire during five previous rounds of Darfur talks which ended in July after the parties signed a Declaration of Principle to set the basis for the sixth session.
The Darfur crisis, which pitted Sudanese government troops and militias against the rebels since 2003, has caused thousands of deaths and the displacement of over one million others.
(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2005)