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U.N. envoy visits Darfur tribesmen

December 09, 2007|From the Associated Press

HISSA HISSA, SUDAN — The United Nations' special envoy for Darfur on Saturday toured the tribal heartland of the region's top rebel leader, trying to draw the reluctant chief's followers into new peace talks that have been stalled since October.

But Jan Eliasson's effort faced firm opposition by Fur tribesmen, hardened by what they describe as years of persecution at the hands of the Sudanese government.

Most Fur tribal chiefs follow rebel leader Abdel Wahid, who is boycotting the U.N.-brokered peace talks until a U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force of 26,000 deploys in the region and proves effective in ending the bloodshed.

Peace negotiations were launched by Eliasson in October, but broke off just after opening in Libya because of the absence of major rebel chiefs.

Wahid, who lives in exile in Paris, is the leader of the Sudan Liberation Army. He wields little military power but enjoys widespread loyalty among the Fur, which is Darfur's largest tribe and the source of its name.

The Fur have been among the main victims of the conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and chased 2.5 million from their homes -- mostly civilians who call themselves black Africans -- since Darfur rebels took up arms in 2003 against the Sudanese Arab-dominated central government, accusing it of discrimination.

A peace deal signed in May 2006 has largely failed, in part because Wahid refused to endorse it. And Eliasson was keen Saturday to win over the Fur civilian leadership to the idea of new negotiations.

"We want to begin the political talks and deploy the peacekeepers at the same time," Eliasson told a gathering in the Hissa Hissa camp, home to about 50,000 displaced tribe members. "We hope these two processes will reinforce each other."

Although Eliasson aims to open "substantial negotiations" early next year, U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said last week that the Darfur peacekeeping force due to arrive in January faced considerable delays because of the Sudanese government's foot-dragging and a lack of equipment and troop commitments from wealthy Western nations.

The U.N. estimates that more than 4 million people -- two-thirds of Darfur's population -- are seriously affected by the conflict. With the spread of chaos, some of the Sudanese Arabs in Darfur have now also fled to displacement camps.

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