Home | News    Wednesday 19 January 2005

Top UN envoy postpones talks with southern Sudan rebels

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By RODRIQUE NGOWI, Associated Press Writer

RUMBEK, Sudan, Jan 19, 2005 (AP) — The top United Nations envoy to Sudan postponed talks Wednesday with rebel officials in southern Sudan until he can meet with their leader to negotiate the deployment of up to 10,000 peacekeepers to monitor an accord aimed at ending Africa’s longest-running conflict.

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Jan Pronk

John Garang, chairman of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, was expected to arrive here by Wednesday. But by mid-afternoon there was still no sign of him, and U.N. envoy Jan Pronk flew to Ethiopia to meet with African Union officials about the proposed peacekeeping mission.

The United Nations plans to deploy troops within six months, during which time the government and rebels have committed under a Jan. 9 peace deal to set up a national power-sharing administration with an autonomous south. At the end of a six-year transition period, the 10 southern states will hold a referendum on whether to become independent.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to submit a report on the peacekeeping mission to the Security Council later this week, including the proposed mandate, size and deployment schedule. Pronk has said he believes the force would need 9,000-10,000 troops.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere and U.S. deputy ambassador Anne Patterson said Tuesday that Annan’s recommendation for the force would probably be in the range of 9,000 troops.

Asked at U.N. headquarters in New York whether that number would be acceptable to Washington, Patterson said, "In that range is acceptable. ... We’re working on that range."

U.N. and U.S. officials have said they hope a solution to the 21-year-old war in the south will help end a separate conflict in the western Darfur region.

That conflict was sparked in February 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms for more power and resources. The government responded with a counterinsurgency campaign in which a mostly Arab militia known as the Janjaweed has committed wide-scale abuses against tribes it says are allied with the rebels.

Hardships including disease and malnutrition are believed to have killed more than 70,000 of the nearly 2 million displaced in Darfur since March.

Sudan’s southern civil war pitted the government, led by Arab Muslims who dominate the north, against rebels fighting for greater autonomy and a greater share of the country’s wealth in the mainly black Christian and animist south. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from war-induced famine and disease.

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