June 1, 2006

AU says “regrets” no deal with Darfur rebels

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The African Union expressed "deep
regret" on Thursday after two Darfur rebel factions missed an
AU deadline to sign a peace deal aimed at ending the
three-year-old conflict in Sudan's remote west.

The AU has raised the specter of U.N. sanctions against the
Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction led by Abdel Wahed Mohammed
al-Nur and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) if
they did not sign before May 31.

In a statement, AU Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare
noted "with deep regret" that last-minute efforts to get the
two factions to sign the deal had failed.

It said the AU's Peace and Security Council will now decide
whether to take punitive action against the groups. The council
was expected to meet in the coming days.

A diplomatic source in Addis Ababa said about 35 dissident
rebel commanders from both JEM and SLA were set to meet AU
officials later on Thursday to support the Darfur peace deal.

"They will tell AU officials that they reject war and
prefer to resolve Darfur problem through the peaceful process,"
the source added.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than
2 million Darfuris have fled their homes to miserable camps,
which have become tinderboxes of violence as thousands
demonstrate against the deal on offer.

The SLA faction that signed the May 5 peace deal, led by
Minni Arcua Minnawi, has the most firepower in Darfur, but the
SLA faction that objects to the accord led by Nur is from the
region's largest Fur tribe. Analysts say he may cause a split
along ethnic lines if he does not sign.

Nur, who is in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, said he would
not sign unless changes or additions were made to the text,
conditions which the AU and Sudan's government reject.

Nur's faction and JEM have said they want more political
posts, better compensation for the victims of the conflict and
a say in disarming the government-armed Arab militia blamed for
much of the violence in Darfur.


The United Nations describes the May 5 deal as only the
first step on a long road toward peace. Diplomats say intensive
Darfur-Darfur dialogue involving other armed groups and tribal
leadership needed to be held as quickly as possible.

The AU statement expressed concern at the worsening
security situation in Darfur especially in the past few weeks.
In some cases AU forces themselves have been victims of attack.

"Future violations of the ceasefire agreement will not be
tolerated," the AU statement said, adding the 7,000-strong AU
force monitoring a truce in Darfur should be more "proactive"
in self-defense and the protection of civilians.

Despite intense international pressure, Sudan has not
agreed to allow U.N. forces into Darfur to takeover the mission
from the under funded and ill-equipped AU force.

On Thursday, dozens of Nobel laureates wrote a letter to
President Bush and other leaders urging them to push hard for a
tough U.N. peacekeeping mandate which would include close-air
support and ground-based radar to monitor movements and enforce
a no-fly zone.

"Darfur will not stabilize unless the peacekeeping force
has the tools to do the job," said the letter signed by Nobel
Peace Prize winners as well as laureates in chemistry, physics,
medicine and economics.

"In Darfur, humankind's center of suffering today, men,
women and children are uprooted, starved, tortured, mutilated,
humiliated, and massacred," said Holocaust survivor Elie
Wiesel, a signatory and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.

(Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa,
and Sue Pleming in Washington)