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Negotiators open Darfur peace talks
Updated: 2004-12-12 10:48

Negotiators from groups battling in Sudan's Darfur region opened their latest round of peace talks on Saturday, with African mediators imploring the government and rebels to resolve their differences through talks.

Peace negotiations have failed to stop nearly two years of fighting in Sudan's western region that has killed tens of thousands and left nearly 2 million homeless.

African Union officials have said that attacks continued this week.

"War will not resolve the problems of Darfur," Sam Ibok, a top mediator of African Union, told delegates. "It's not just a military problem, it's a problem that can be resolved by political means."

Representatives from Darfur's two main rebel groups and Sudan's government are attending the talks, which were promptly adjourned Saturday and expected to continue Sunday.

Early work will focus on reviewing past interim agreements, with power and wealth sharing and disarmament among the final goals for peace, said Ibok.

An earlier round of talks in November produced accords on humanitarian access to the estimated 1.8 million war-displaced in Darfur and in neighboring Chad, bringing new pledges of an end to hostilities.

Fighting restarted almost immediately after the Nov. 9 accords signed in Abuja and aid groups accused the Sudanese air force of bombing towns. The government denied this and the United Nations said it could not confirm the airstrikes.

Rebel delegates said Saturday government air strikes would hinder the talks.

"According to the agreements we've signed, the government should refrain from military overflights in Darfur, but in the past two weeks we've been under constant bombardment and this will affect the talks," said Mohammed Tugod Lissan, of the Justice and Equality Movement.

Disease and famine have killed 70,000 in Darfur since March, the World Health Organization says. There is no official reckoning of the overall toll of the war, which sparked in February 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms to fight for more power and resources.

The Sudanese government responded by backing a militia known as the Janjaweed, which are now accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson.

Nigeria is the current head of the 52-nation African Union.

A promised 3,000-member African Union peace deployment for Darfur has managed to put only about 800 soldiers and 100 observers in the field. The United Nations calls the situation in Darfur the world's gravest humanitarian crisis.

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