Envoys call for urgency in Darfur peace talks
International envoys to Sudan stressed the "utmost urgency" of reaching a comprehensive Darfur peace deal, as a local governor said negotiations in Doha had so far achieved nothing.
A meeting in South Darfur capital Nyala of diplomats and special envoys from more than a dozen countries, including the United States, Russia and China, stressed that the timeframe for a Darfur accord "could not remain indefinite".
"The coming months represent a critical period for Sudan and Darfur in particular, and ... reaching a comprehensive and inclusive peace in Darfur is of the utmost urgency," they said in a joint statement.
But South Darfur's governor, Abdelhamid Kasha, slammed the peace negotiations being held in the Qatari capital Doha for taking too long and achieving nothing.
"I don't care what is happening with these Doha negotiations because they have been going on a long time and they have achieved nothing," he told reporters.
"What I care about is the people and the refugees living in the camps, and how to help them with food, clothes and medicine. And I also care about the security situation in our state."
The Darfur peace talks have been in limbo since Khartoum recalled its delegation to Qatar in late December, citing lack of progress. The war-ravaged region of west Sudan has since seen heavy clashes between the army and rebels.
Aid agencies warn the conflict has slipped down the international agenda at a time of renewed fighting, with attention focused on last month's independence referendum for south Sudan and on post-referendum diplomacy.
Khartoum insists it has not pulled out of peace talks but says it wants to negotiate with all the stakeholders in Darfur, including civil society groups, tribal chiefs and those displaced during the eight-year conflict.
"Our government needs all the rebel movements to come back to Darfur, and we cannot stop negotiations with movements that are not attending Doha now," South Darfur's deputy governor, Mohammed Abdelrahman Mudalal, told AFP.
The Justice and Equality Movement, the most heavily armed rebel group, said in January it was ready for talks, but not in Sudan, and only if they addressed the root causes of the conflict, including political marginalisation.
Last week, the leader of another key rebel group, Minni Minnawi, who signed a peace deal with Khartoum in 2006 but fell out of favour with the government last year, urged all armed movements in Darfur to intensify their struggle.
Russia's special envoy to Sudan, Mikhail Margelov, admitted on Friday that the Darfur talks were a "long-lasting political process" but insisted that differences between the government and rebels could be bridged.
"Big things cannot be done overnight... I don't think it's a full stop, it's just a comma in the sentence," he told AFP.
Margelov said security and humanitarian issues topped the agenda of the meeting in Nyala, which was chaired by Ibrahim Gambari, head of the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
South Darfur governor Abdelhamid Kasha on Friday defended his controversial decision earlier this week to expel the French aid agency Medecins du Monde from the state for allegedly assisting one of the rebel groups.
"We support UNAMID and the international NGOs working with us. We invite them to come and work in South Darfur and we are ready to facilitate all their activities and movements," Kasha said.
"But the NGOs must co-ordinate with UNAMID and the government, and there are legal boundaries that they must not cross," he said.
The United Nations said Medicins du Monde was the latest in a list of around eight NGOs to be forced out of Darfur in the past year, at a time when humanitarian work was already failing to meet local needs.
At least 300, 000 people have been killed in Darfur and 1.8 million people displaced since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, the United Nations says.
The government puts the death toll at 10, 000.