Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mediators woo Sudan Darfur rebels

By Opheera McDoom
Wednesday, May 31, 2006; 9:26 AM

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 cold.

"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.