Nov 22, 2005 (ADDIS ABABA) — The African Union (AU) on Tuesday threatened to slap sanctions against the main rebel group in Sudan’s troubled western Darfur region, which it said was hindering peace efforts there.
The AU Peace and Security Council said divisions in the leadership of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) were hurting efforts to resolve the 33-month-old Darfur conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The council, which is overseeing the pan-African body’s military mission in Darfur, expressed deep concerns about the splits, which it suggested were responsible for a series of recent violations in a shaky ceasefire deal.
In a statement released after a meeting at its headquarters here, the council urged all parties to the conflict to return immediately to AU-sponsored peace talks in Nigeria that have been cratered by a fight between SLM leaders.
The council "urges all the parties to return immediately to Abuja for the seventh round of the talks without any preconditions and to ensure that the seventh round is the decisive one with a comprehensive peace agreement to end the conflict," it said.
It had also decided "to consider future appropriate measures, including sanctions, to be taken against any party that will undermine or constitute an obstacle to the peace process in Darfur," the statement said.
The council "reminds the leaders of the SLM of their heavy responsibility not to prolong the suffering of their people in Darfur and ... strongly demands that they put aside their differences and personal ambitions and focus on the negotiations to end the conflict," it added.
On Sunday in Khartoum, an AU spokesman said the seventh round of peace talks had been postponed for "logistical reasons" amid a rift between SLM founder Abdel Wahed Mohammed Nur and the head of the military wing, Mani Arko Minawi.
Those talks, between the SLM, Darfur’s other rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Khartoum, had been due to begin in Abuja on Monday.
Minawi and Nur have been battling for control of the group since last month when a planned reconciliation conference in western Sudan failed to end longstanding differences.
A report appended to the Peace and Security Council’s statement said the October meeting had "deepened the division within the SLM with serious implications for the peace process and other efforts to end the conflict in Darfur."
UN chief Kofi Annan warned the UN Security Council on Monday that "repairing the rift in the Sudan Liberation Movement" was one of the "critical elements" to ending the conflict.
As many as 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Darfur since an uprising by rebels from the SLM and smaller JEM erupted two years ago, prompting harsh retaliation by pro-Khartoum militias.
The combined effect of the fighting and a dire humanitarian crisis in the region has displaced more than two million others.
The war broke out February 2003 when the JEM and the SLM began fighting what they say is political and economic marginalisation of the region’s black African tribes by the Arab-led regime in Khartoum.