Sudan president heads to Qatar amid Darfur violence
Khartoum (AFP) March 28, 2011
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is to hold talks on Tuesday in Qatar, a key broker in the floundering Darfur peace process, amid reports of fresh air strikes in the war-torn western region.
"On his (two-day) visit, President Bashir will meet Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and the talks are expected to address the negotiations and the mediation efforts on the Darfur file," Sudan's ambassador to Qatar told the Sudanese Media Centre, which is close to the government.
Qatar has been hosting on-off peace talks between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and the mainly non-Arab rebels who first rose up in 2003.
The announcement of Bashir's visit comes amid reports of air strikes on a village in South Darfur on Saturday that wounded 13 people.
"A UNAMID patrol has confirmed air strikes at Khirwajid village, near Labado in South Darfur, on March 26," the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur said in a statement.
"The incident left a reported 13 people injured, many of whom were taken to the mission's team site for treatment, as well as four houses burned and livestock killed," it added.
A spokesman for the Sudanese armed forces, which have the region's only air force, denied all knowledge of any such attack.
The peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha between the Khartoum government and two of the main rebel groups -- the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) -- have hit deadlock.
The head mediator of the United Nations and the African Union, Djibril Bassole, said last week that his team had submitted draft texts to the three parties assessing the outcome of the talks so far ahead of a planned conference in Doha next month.
But the JEM, the most heavily-armed Darfur rebel group, says the texts contain nothing new, and accuses the government of being unwilling to reach a negotiated settlement.
"There are no direct negotiations at the moment... JEM are not ready to sign any agreement with the government that is unwilling to reach a negotiated peace settlement and is taking unilateral measures in Darfur," the group's chief negotiator Ahmed Tugod Lissan told AFP by telephone from Qatar last week.
The head of Khartoum's delegation in Doha, Amin Hassan Omar, said the government had waited too long to reach an accord with the rebels.
A major obstacle to such an accord, say the rebels, was the government's announcement earlier this month that it will add two new states to Darfur's existing three, an initiative they condemned as a policy of "divide and rule."
A proposal to hold a referendum before May on Darfur's administrative status, and how it should be governed, was also heavily criticised by the rebels, with Lissan saying it could not happen until there was peace in the region.
Earlier this month, the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission said renewed fighting between armed groups and the Sudanese army had resulted in more than 70,000 new arrivals since December at camps in Darfur set up for those fleeing their homes.
On Sunday, the Sudanese Media Centre charged that the JEM was receiving military supplies from the government of south Sudan, which is poised to secure international recognition as an independent state in July.
It cited unnamed sources as saying the JEM planned to launch joint attacks against the Sudanese army before the autumn, alongside another rebel faction headed by Minni Minnawi.
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