Darfur peace talks adjourn after security, aid deal
Peace talks between Sudan's government and Darfur rebels ended on Wednesday, a day after Khartoum bowed to international pressure and signed agreements on security and humanitarian issues with rebels.
African Union mediators said the talks would resume around Dec. 10 in the Nigerian capital Abuja to negotiate a political settlement for the conflict that has been called the world's worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations.
The African Union Commission President Alpha Oumar Konare said he welcomed the signing of the deal.
"The signing of these two protocols will contribute to the improvement of the humanitarian and security situations on the ground," Konare said in a statement issued by the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
"It will also facilitate the current efforts in the search for a comprehensive and lasting political settlement of the conflict in Darfur," he said.
But as Sudan's leaders signed the deal, Sudanese police raided a Darfur refugee camp on Wednesday, destroyed makeshift homes, and fired into the air, the United Nations said.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said staff from U.N. agencies and other relief groups at the El Geer camp in southern Darfur, immediately withdrew from the area fearing for their safety.
Sudanese officials were not immediately available for comment on the raid.
The security protocol signed on Tuesday envisages disarming the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militia, accused by rebels of a campaign of rape and killing, and asks both sides to provide information of the whereabouts of their forces.
The humanitarian protocol says aid workers should be given free access to refugees in camps where disease and malnutrition have killed at least 70,000 people since March.
Separately, an AU official said the number of troops deployed in Darfur would reach 840 by the end of the week, with the deployment of 196 Gambian troops.
The AU has said it plans to deploy a total force of more than 3,200 personnel, including 1,700 troops who will serve as peacekeepers and 815 civilian police.
Large scale fighting erupted in early 2003 when two African rebel groups staged an uprising, accusing Khartoum of neglect.
The conflict followed years of low intensity fighting between Arab nomads and mainly African farmers over scarce resources in the vast desert region.
Khartoum signed the two protocols on Tuesday, just 10 days before a U.N. Security Council meeting at which Sudan could have seen sanctions imposed on its oil industry.
Mediators instructed both sides to reconvene in Abuja in December to finalize the draft of a common declaration of principles to govern further talks for a political settlement.
So far, the government has accepted a draft but rebels want to see more points added to the agenda.
But the U.N. envoy for Darfur, Jan Pronk has questioned how much control the government has over the Arab militia and diplomats said raids such as that on El Geer indicated local officials might be taking matters into their own hands.
Pronk and others have also said Darfur rebels, aligned with those in the south, were provoking the Arab tribesmen in hopes that foreign troops would intervene and they could then take over the provincial government and have a seat in Khartoum.