Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Talks in Eritrea not related to Darfur
June 14, 2006.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Sudan's government has begun peace talks with northeastern rebels in an effort to end a 16-year, low-intensity conflict in the impoverished region, a senior official said Wednesday.
The talks began Tuesday in neighboring Eritrea, where the Eastern Front -- a coalition of the Beja Congress and Free Lions rebel groups -- is based, said Elsamani Elwasila, the Sudanese minister of state for foreign affairs.
The unrest in the east is not related to a three-year war in the western Sudanese region of Darfur or a southern civil war that ended after two decades with a peace treaty last year.
While the concerns are local in each area, the three wars illustrate the difficulties the Arabicized elite in Khartoum has had maintaining ties with the provinces in a vast and ethnically and religiously diverse country.
Talks with the northeastern rebels "will concentrate on the power-sharing and on the security arrangements for the fighting groups, that is to say the integration of the groups into the national army and the other police, security and that sort of thing," Elwasila told journalists in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
The Beja Congress and Free Lions are pushing for a larger share of wealth and power. The Beja Congress rejected a January 17 accord between the government and opposition groups to end the northeastern conflict. The group said the accord failed to meet its demands for a share of wealth and power in the northeastern region.
Sudan's government expects to use the experience it gained from negotiating peace deals in the southern and Darfur conflicts to quickly reach an agreement with the northeastern insurgents, Elwasila said.
The Beja Congress is also a member of the umbrella Sudanese opposition group, the Eritrean-headquartered National Democratic Alliance.
Elwasila also appealed to Darfur's holdout rebels to join the May 15 peace agreement to end a conflict that has killed at least 180,000 people and forced 200,000 to flee their homes in the vast, arid region.
The rebels should quickly join the unity government and negotiate with partners in the administration to address their demands before and after elections expected to be held in 2008, he said.
"We appeal ... that they should think nationally rather than regionally," Elwasila said.
Sudan's government will continue trying to persuade holdout groups to join the peace process "because it is the responsibility of the government to convince everybody to come on board" and the unity governmnent wants all shades of political opinion to join it ahead of the elections, he said.
The rebels should join the peace agreement before June 23, when signatories to the accord are expected to begin six months of key confidence-building measures -- including identifying the locations of their combatants, gathering them at assembly points, laying down arms, giving up the weapons and integrating rebel fighters into national security services, he said.