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The United Nations special envoy to Darfur sees some slight openings for a renewed peace process to end that 4-year conflict, slight openings. The challenge is getting Sudan's government and rebel movements back to the negotiating table, and it is a challenge because there are so many players involved.

Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Jan Eliasson, a Swedish diplomat and former president of the U.N. General Assembly, says his latest job as the secretary general's envoy to Darfur has been harder than he anticipated. Sudan has reluctantly agreed to let some U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur to beef up an under-funded African Union force. That's still far from what the U.N. is hoping for. Eliasson is working on another front, trying to get a political agreement.

Mr. JAN ELIASSON (United Nations Special Envoy to Darfur): There is a beginning of a political process. Now the government of Sudan and most of the rebel movements have agreed that there is no military resolution. And if they agree that there is no military resolution, there is only one way to go, namely the political road.

KELEMEN: Only one rebel group signed a peace agreement a year ago, and since then, the rebels have splintered. Eliasson says there are as many as 14 rebel movements now and just reaching out to them has been a logistical challenge.

Mr. ELIASSON: When we are in North Darfur, we take a helicopter and go to, in this case, a place called Umria(ph), where we sit under the tree with the commanders of the SLA. I have also crossed into Chad to a little town called Abeche, and then you take a Land Rover and go to other groves where you meet the JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the NRF, the National Redemption Front.

KELEMEN: The conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when rebels rose up against the Sudanese government. Sudan responded by arming militias that attacked villages in a deadly campaign the U.S. said amounted to genocide. A peace agreement would deal with issues of compensation as well as wealth and power-sharing arrangements similar to those in an agreement that ended a longer conflict between Khartoum and Southern Sudan.

Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth represents the government of Southern Sudan here in Washington, and is sympathetic to the grievances of the marginalized groups in Darfur.

Mr. EZEKIEL LOL GATKUOTH (Representative Southern Sudan Regional Government): They have a genuine cause for fighting the war in Darfur. And I think the other issue is not only humanitarian issues; it is political issues. And the root causes of the conflict have to be addressed.

KELEMEN: But he says to do that Darfur rebels need to come together, and the government of Southern Sudan is trying to help.

Mr. GATKUOTH: We have launched this initiative to bring all the Darfurians together so that they can forge unity and have a common position before they enter into negotiation with a National Congress Party.

KELEMEN: The Islamist party of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir. The U.N.'s Jan Eliasson says there are many other actors to bring into this process, neighbors like Chad, as well as the U.N. Security Council. He feels he's had some success with China, a key business partner of Sudan and a permanent member of the Security Council.

China recently appointed a special envoy to Darfur and has agreed to send military engineers as part of a U.N. support package. But while these may be hopeful signs, Eliasson also sees new problems erupting in Darfur.

Mr. ELIASSON: There are more people killed now in tribal battles than between the government and the rebel movement. Also, there's radicalization going on inside the camps. Also, some of the villages that were deserted are being reoccupied by others whom you later, then, will have to ask to leave.

KELEMEN: All this has added to a sense of urgency for him, and he hopes for the government and the rebels as well.

Mr. ELIASSON: Time is on nobody's side. This is a debilitating conflict, four years of this nightmare.

KELEMEN: Michelle Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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