Negotiations for Darfur Peace Extended in Nigeria

Sudan's government and rebel groups are extending peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria. Rebels have rejected draft peace agreements concerning Sudan's Darfur region, but agreed to continue negotiating with the government under pressure from the United States.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Talks on the crisis in Darfur have been extended until tomorrow to give international mediators more time to negotiate a peace deal in the Sudanese region.

Sudan's government had accepted a peace agreement before last night's deadline, but rebel negotiators balked, saying they wanted more of their demands to be met. The African Union is sponsoring the talks.

Here, a spokesman, Noureddine Mezni.

Mr. NOUREDDINE MEZNI (Spokesman, African Union): We are optimistic that by Tuesday evening we can say that we'll be able to achieve the peace and to have that agreement signed by the parties. This will really alleviate the suffering of the population in Darfur.

MONTAGNE: The negotiations, which are taking place in Nigeria, are aimed at ending years of fighting in Darfur. That fighting has left hundreds of thousands dead, and more than two-million homeless.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been covering the stories out of Darfur, and she joins me now from London.

And, the effort to end this crisis has been going on for two years. Do you have any hopes for these talks? The spokesman obviously is quite optimistic, but from your point of view, what?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

It really depends whether the rebel groups--because the government delegation has agreed to sign the peace deal--it depends whether the rebels say their demands are met or not.

And the key issues are wealth distribution, power sharing, and security. And integration of the Janjaweed militia--that's the pro-Sudanese proxy militiamen who are fighting in Darfur--whether they are gong to be in the army or not, or how they will be disarmed. Those are the key issues that have not been resolved.

MONTAGNE: Now, Ofeibea, we hear a lot about the Janjaweed and we hear a lot about the fighting, but very little about the rebels there in Darfur and what they want. Talk to us about that.

QUIST-ARCTON: They say they want much better representation and control of the region for local people. They say they have been marginalized by the Sudanese government in Khartoum, and that's why they took up arms against the authorities.

The Sudanese government is accused of using these proxy forces, the Janjaweed, those who are generally held responsible for the looting, the rape, the killings of civilians. The rebels say this is not good enough. We've been talking, tough-talking negotiations for two years. The negotiators are trying, but the government has not acceded to our demands. We want more of that. We want to know more about compensation. We want to know more about political representation.

And, of course, Sudan is an oil-producing country, so wealth distribution and wealth share is a very important factor these days.

MONTAGNE: And last month, the violence in Darfur spilled across the border into Chad. Is this a wider conflict that is going to continue?

QUIST-ARCTON: That is the great fear, not only amongst Chadians and Sudanese, the ordinary people, but amongst the U.S., which has been a really key observer in these talks, and the international community.

The fact that now you have 200,000 Sudanese Darfur refugees across the border in refugee camps in Chad, and 55,000-plus Chadians now displaced, who say they're being attacked by the pro-Sudanese Janjaweed militia. And then, you have the quarrel between Sudan and Chad, with the Sudanese accusing the Chadians of backing the Darfur rebels, and the Chadians accusing the Sudanese of supporting Chadian rebels, who are trying to overthrow the Chadian president.

MONTAGNE: So as these talks drag on, the plight of Darfur's refugees worsens. The U.N.'s World Food Programme just announced it was cutting in half the food that it was handing out to these refugees. Is the end to this crisis in sight?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, this peace deal, or this apparent peace deal that they were hoping for overnight, was meant to be the beginning of the end of three years of fighting. And, as you say, now the U.N. World Food Programme is cutting rations, so it's civilians who are really the target and the victims in the crisis; and that means women, children, and older people.

So an agreement is actually key, but whether it will happen with our without a 48-hour extension of the deadline is another thing altogether. And what will happen if they don't agree? The African Union, the chief mediators have not said.

And add to all of that, donor fatigue. It looks as if the rations to the civilian refugees are going to be cut because people have got their eyes off the Darfur crisis. So you hear that the U.S. called it genocide almost two years ago, but people say, action--what is happening? These people need to be helped, and need to be helped now.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

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