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'Political Will' Urged for Darfur Talks Breakthrough
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African Union (AU) Chairman Denis Sassou-Nguesso on Sunday urged Sudan's government and rebels to show "necessary political will" so as to achieve a breakthrough in the long-running Darfur negotiations.

Sassou-Nguesso, who is also the president of the Republic of the Congo, met the warring parties from Saturday night till Sunday morning and then afternoon with his Nigerian counterpart Olusegun Obasanjo and Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

"It was frank and exploratory," Obasanjo told reporters after the meeting. "They will continue to meet to see how they can bridge the gap. All are willing to make a success of this."

Majzoub al-Khalifa, head of the Sudanese government delegation, also said that they had "made some progress" but did not give details. Representatives of the Darfur rebels, however, said nothing new had come out of the meeting.

An AU statement issued after the meeting quoted Sassou-Nguesso as urging "the Sudanese parties to move away from their hitherto fixed and maximalist positions, and to muster the necessary political will so as to achieve the much needed breakthrough in the negotiations."

Sassou-Nguesso stressed "the urgency that all the stakeholders attach to the need to bring about a negotiated and political solution to the conflict ... to expeditiously conclude the negotiations," the statement said.

The negotiations, in their seventh round, had made slow progress in the past two years but a resolution adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council on March 10 called for the warring parties to reach a comprehensive peace agreement by the end of April.

So far, the warring parties have agreed to consider and adopt anew ceasefire agreement, which "effectively addresses the grey areas" in the April 2004 one, in the coming days, the AU statement said. Mediators hope that would pave the way for immediate conclusion for the comprehensive agreement.

They also agreed to direct negotiation as a means of bridging the gap between them, it said.

"We have requested the Chief Mediator, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim to expedite the preparation of a comprehensive package on the three calabashes of power sharing, wealth sharing and security arrangements for final consideration by the parties," Sassou-Nguesso was quoted as saying.

Darfur rebels took up arms against Khartoum in February 2003, accusing the government of negligence. Many people have been killed in the conflict and more displaced.

(Xinhua News Agency April 10, 2006)

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