x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sudanese president sets Thursday deadline for Darfur talks

Omar Hassan al Bashir declared Darfur peace talks being held in Qatar would end on Dec. 30, dealing an apparent final blow to negotiations which have made little progress in ending the region's conflict.

KHARTOUM // Sudan's President Omar Hassan al Bashir declared Darfur peace talks being held in Qatar would end on Dec. 30, dealing an apparent final blow to negotiations which have made little progress in ending the region's conflict.

A rebel coalition negotiating in Doha, the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), said Bashir's comments were unhelpful and it did not expect any agreement to be signed on Thursday.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide in Darfur, warned on Wednesday that anyone bearing arms in the western region after the Doha talks ended would be dealt with decisively.

"We have set a deadline of tomorrow and if there is no agreement then we will withdraw our delegation, and any talks will from now on be inside Darfur," he told a rally on a visit to Darfur. "After that anyone who takes up arms -- we will show them."

A brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, driving more than two million people into makeshift refugee camps. Clashes with rebels have continued during the Qatar talks.

"It is not up to Bashir to decide whether talks move, it is up to the mediation. Let him take his delegation away; the problem of Darfur will remain," said Haydar Ateem, deputy chairman of LJM coalition.

The two main rebel groups are still fighting the government in Darfur, with clashes this month driving more than 12,000 people from their homes.

Darfur has disintegrated into a free-for-all with arms readily available, and law and order collapsed. Kidnappings and carjackings have limited the movement of foreign aid workers.

Khartoum has been distracted by a referendum on independence for the oil-producing south of Sudan starting on Jan. 9 which most believe will result in secession and could encourage Darfuris to make similar demands.

Darfur rebels believe a post-secession north Sudan would be weaker with Darfur then encompassing a larger proportion of the country's territory, giving them a stronger position at talks.

The insurgents took up arms in early 2003, accusing Khartoum of marginalising the arid region.