May 31, 2006

Mediators woo Sudan Darfur rebels

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Talks intensified on Wednesday to
convince two Darfur rebel factions to sign a peace deal by a
midnight deadline to end a three-year-old conflict in Sudan's
violent west where tens of thousands have been killed.

A May 5 deal was signed by only one rebel faction leader,
Minni Arcua Minnawi of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and
African Union mediators gave two other factions until Wednesday
to sign or face possible U.N. sanctions.

"The day will end at midnight so we still have time and we
still wish to see others joining the peace process," said
Noureddine Mezni, AU spokesman in Khartoum.

Minnawi, who has returned to his areas in Darfur, told
Reuters on Wednesday the others needed to sign up to address
their concerns from within rather than remaining out in the

"Let them hurry to sign," he said. "If they join the
agreement they can develop things but whenever they are outside
they cannot develop the document."

But he said that no changes could be made to the deal.

Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur, the other SLA faction leader,
is in the Kenyan capital Nairobi but on Tuesday his group said
he would not sign unless changes or additions were made to the
text, conditions which the AU and Sudan's government reject.

And the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is being
prodded by the Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek in Ljubljana.
JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim also says he wants radical changes to
the deal before signing.

The two factions say they want more political posts, better
compensation for the victims of the conflict and a say in
disarming the government-armed Arab militia, who are blamed for
much of the violence on the ground.

While Minnawi's faction has the most firepower in Darfur,
Nur is from the region's largest Fur tribe, and analysts fear
he may cause a split along ethnic lines if he does not sign up.

Mezni said the AU Peace and Security Council would decide
what action, if any, to take against those who did not sign.
The council will meet in the coming days, but no date has been

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit was not

"I have no information to enable me to give you good news
today," he told Reuters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

But he added that a number of groups that had split from
the Nur SLA faction and JEM had approached the AU saying they
supported the deal.

More than two million, mostly non-Arab, Darfuris have fled
their homes to miserable camps, which have become tinderboxes
of violence as thousands demonstrate against the deal on offer.

The Sudanese Organization Against Torture (SOAT) said
police opened fire on Darfuris in the Otash camp in South
Darfur on Monday, killing one and wounding three. In nearby
Kalma, police beat and arrested dozens of demonstrators.

A U.N. report said on Wednesday most aid agencies and the
AU had withdrawn from Otash camp following the violence and no
one was assisting the injured.

The report added in Kalma, two other Darfuris were killed
by unknown armed men. The AU also pulled out of Kalma after
people there attacked and burned their site in the camp,
beating to death one of their interpreters earlier this month.

The cash-strapped AU has come under attack from those in
the camps, frustrated at the 7,000-strong force's inability to
protect them from continued rape, looting and killing.

But the AU has a hard time defending itself. Last week a
patrol was attacked, killing one soldier and wounding another.
Five more soldiers were injured in another attack on an AU base
in Masteri in south-west Darfur.

(Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)