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Darfur rebel group rejects return to talks
Updated: 2004-12-24 15:47

A Darfur rebel group said on Thursday it refused to return to African Union-sponsored peace talks and rejected the pan-African body as lead mediator to end the 22-month-old conflict.

The leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim, told Reuters it would only accept the United Nations as principal mediator in any peace talks and wanted U.N. troops stationed in Darfur.

The other main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), said it was also very unhappy with the African Union (AU) but had not yet decided whether to attend a new round of talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

Ibrahim, speaking by telephone, said the AU had failed to hold the Sudanese government to account.

"JEM is rejecting the African Union. We are not going to Abuja again under the auspices of the African Union," he said.

The JEM and the SLA have been involved in faltering talks in Abuja to find a political solution to 22 months of conflict in the vast western region.

Tens of thousands have died in the fighting in Darfur and the United Nations says it has caused one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with more than 1.6 million forced to flee their homes. The United States says genocide has been committed.

Ibrahim said the AU, which is monitoring a much-violated April cease-fire in Darfur, had failed to protect civilians, disarm Arab militias known as Janjaweed or stop a military offensive by the government.

SLA chairman Abdel Wahed Muhamed al-Nur, told Reuters: "We think that until now the AU has completely failed to monitor the cease-fire and also to force the Khartoum government to stop violations.

"But we are discussing this and will likely make a decision this week."

Intense fighting in South Darfur state over the past two weeks halted the Abuja negotiations, as each side blamed the other for starting the clashes. Thousands have fled the renewed violence.

The AU has said the talks will resume some time in January. Spokesman Adem Thiam stressed on Thursday that the AU was still committed to finding a quick and lasting solution to the conflict despite the rebels' announcement.

"The AU will use the time to evaluate the whole process and assess AU's strategy and conduct consultations so as to restart the peace process on a much better basis," he said.

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