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Peace Talks Between Sudan and Darfur Rebels Collapse

The government says the U.S. declaration of genocide in the region caused the insurgents to harden their position in the negotiations.

September 16, 2004|From Associated Press

ABUJA, Nigeria — Sudan's rebels and government broke off internationally brokered peace talks on the strife-torn Darfur region Wednesday after three weeks with little progress, but left open the possibility of trying again in a few weeks.

Sudan's government -- under threat of international sanctions over 19 months of violence in Darfur -- insisted that U.S. criticism had heartened rebels past the point of compromise.

Sudan's top negotiator cited Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's declaration last week that the Sudanese government and Arab militias had committed acts of genocide against Darfur's non-Arab villagers.

"The attitude of Colin Powell and America generally was the main cause of the stalemate," Sudanese envoy Majzoub Khalifa said.

"It sent a wrong message to the rebels, and that resulted in their hardening their position at the talks," Khalifa said, insisting that Sudan's problems "will never be solved from outside Africa."

"It's unfortunate they've become intransigent," he said of the rebels. "They should be held responsible for this result we're seeing, the breakdown of the talks."

The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment, but an official noted that the Bush administration had been saying for days that the genocide designation was based on facts and not on any desire to punish the Sudanese government.

Rebels said the Sudanese government was seeking security concessions that would lead to the insurgents' annihilation by government forces.

Virtually no progress had been made in the talks since they began Aug. 23 in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, under sponsorship of the 52-nation African Union.

Both sides, after a first round of failed talks in July, had returned under intensifying international pressure to stop the violence in Darfur. Arab militias in the region are accused of turning on non-Arab farmers after a February 2003 uprising by two rebel groups.

The United Nations says the conflict has killed at least 50,000 people and displaced 1.2 million. Refugees and international agencies give widespread accounts of militia fighters raping, torturing and killing civilians.

An April cease-fire has been largely ignored despite the presence of about 80 African Union military observers backed up by 300 African troops.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a small number of U.S. troops, perhaps "two or four," have been working with the African Union military observer mission in Sudan. Some of them were on site when Powell met with African Union officials during a recent visit, Boucher said.

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