Nur's Darfur rebel SLA faction sees progress in peace talks
"I think both movements will sign the agreement," Minnawi told the Associated Press today on the telephone from Chad.Reuters report by Estelle Shirbon - just in:
"I'm expecting Abdelwahed al-Nur to sign the agreement in the days to come," said Minnawi. "As for the Justice and Equality Movement, it is quite likely to happen soon also," he added.
"When it happens, it will be a very big victory for Darfur," said Minnawi, who had just met with the Chadian president to discuss border security and a timetable for the repatriation of some 400,000 Darfur refugees living in Chad.
Nur wrote to African Union (AU) mediators late on Wednesday asking to reopen discussions with Khartoum and pledging to sign the accord if key demands were addressed in a separate document.Note, the report also explains a reluctant Khartoum had said it would consider letting in UN troops if a peace agreement were signed in Abuja, but European Union officials in Brussels said Sudan's opposition to a UN mission had in fact increased since the deal was reached::
"There is a very positive reply from the AU and a positive reply from the government. This might lead to a breakthrough in the negotiations," said Ibrahim Madibo, a close adviser to Nur. They are still in the Nigerian capital Abuja, where the talks that led to the May 5 peace deal took place.
Nur's main demands are for more compensation funds for Darfur from Khartoum, greater political representation for his group, and greater involvement in mechanisms to enforce a ceasefire and disarmament plan foreseen in the accord.
"If there's a new development (on these demands) I'm ready to sign anywhere, anytime, ... But only if there is a clear supplementary document," Nur told Reuters at his hotel.
"Sudan has expressed reservations about a U.N. peacekeeping force, but negotiations are ongoing," said EU special representative to Sudan Pekka Haavisto in Helsinki on Friday.
"If we fail to have a credible peacekeeping operation in Sudan, the peace treaty will fail," Haavisto added.
Diplomats in Abuja say discussions involving Nur, Minnawi, the government and international mediators are under way to coax Nur into signing the deal but the situation was delicate.
"We're in the thick of it. It could go either way," said one diplomat who requested anonymity.
Nur and Minnawi loathe each other but Minnawi wants Nur to sign because he does not want spoilers undermining the accord. However, it would be hard for him to swallow any concessions made to his rival after he has already signed the agreement.
Nur is weak militarily but his endorsement of the agreement is important because he is a member of the Fur tribe, Darfur's largest. Minnawi has more fighters but he is from the smaller Zaghawa ethnic group.
Hostility between ethnic groups in Darfur has fuelled the conflict.
Haavisto said those seen as impeding the peace process will likely face U.N. sanctions.
"If they (SLA/JEM rebel factions) don't sign, I have the feeling that the U.N. will not have pity towards them, as the political will for a peace deal is broad," Haavisto said.
(additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Brussels and Arild Moen in Helsinki)
Photo: Minni Minnawi, leader of Darfur rebel group SLA signs Darfur Peace Agreement May 5, 2006 (wcco.com)