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Bashir says door open to peace in Darfur

by Staff Writers
Khartoum (AFP) Dec 31, 2010
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said on Friday that the door to peace in Darfur remains open and called on Darfuris to put out the fire of war, just a day after Khartoum withdrew from peace talks.

"Our door remains wide open to all honest people who want peace and are committed to working within the framework of the constitutional order," Bashir said in a speech at the presidential palace to mark the 55th anniversary of Sudanese independence.

"In the hands of the people of Darfur today is a rare opportunity to extinguish the fire of war, and they are tending towards the choice of recovery and reconciliation," he added, calling for dialogue with "all segments of society in Darfur."

Speaking in the South Darfur capital Nyala earlier in the week, Bashir had said Sudan would withdraw from peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha and organise its own negotiations in Darfur itself if no accord with the rebels were reached by Thursday.

The Sudanese government's special adviser on Darfur, Ghazi Salaheddin, duly announced on Thursday the departure of the negotiating team, but insisted this did not mean Khartoum was closing the door on peace talks.

"The delegation will leave because it has nothing to do, but that does not mean we withdrew from the peace process, and the mediators have promised us a document" on a draft agreement for Darfur, Salaheddin told reporters.

Darfur has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

The Khartoum government has for months been trying to secure a comprehensive peace agreement with all Darfur rebel groups, to no avail.

In his speech on Friday, Bashir also outlined his economic priorities which included the "availability" of basic food products and the "stabilisation" of the Sudanese pound, whose value has been knocked by uncertainty over a January 9 referendum on independence for the south.

The breakaway of the south, where around three-quarters of Sudan's oil reserves lie, "could signify a reduction in oil revenues" for the Khartoum government, the Sudanese president admitted.

North and south have been seeking to agree an formula to share Sudan's oil wealth that would guarantee economic stability in the event that the south chooses to secede, as is widely expected.

Haile Menkerios, the head of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS), which oversees implementation of the 2005 peace accord that put an end to the civil war, said on Friday that this year had seen "a few regrettable incidents" related to legitimate apprehensions "and a degree of continuing mistrust."

"At no point, however, did these tensions escalate or threaten the peace process," he added.

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