African Union sets deadline for Darfur peace deal

The African Union will end talks among warring parties in Sudan’s Darfur region by April 30 if the Khartoum government and rebel factions fail to agree to a peace deal, a senior mediator says.

Sam Ibok, head of the African Union team mediating peace negotiations between the Sudan government and rebels fighting in Darfur, said his team was still working toward a United Nations-backed deadline to achieve a final peace agreement by the end of the month.

“We will respect the deadline and if there are no indications that a deal is possible, we will wind up” talks by April 30, Ibok said at the talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Representatives of the Sudanese government and the two Darfur rebel movements will be presented with the final draft agreement this week.

The document will represent a “just and acceptable compromise” to end the Darfur conflict if indeed the warring sides are interested in peace, the chief mediator says.

Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 when some ethnic groups took up arms, accusing the east African nation’s Arab-dominated central government of neglect.

The central government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab tribal militias known as Janjaweed to murder and rape civilians and lay waste to villages. Sudan denies backing the Janjaweed.

More than 180,000 people have died in the conflict and more than three million have been driven from their homes.

Nearly two years of African Union-mediated peace negotiations in Abuja between the Sudan government and the two main rebel groups – the Sudanese Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement – have failed to yield a deal to end a conflict the United Nations said has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

The UN Security Council earlier in the month gave its backing to the deadline set by the African Union for a Darfur peace deal. The security council also said it would hold accountable those responsible for blocking the Darfur peace process and violating human rights there.

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