DOHA, Jan 10 – Mediators attempting to broker an end to the six-year war in Darfur have met in the Qatari capital ahead of the first peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement since 2007.
The talks had been due to open on Monday evening but were put off until Tuesday after the arrival of some members of both delegations was delayed.
"We are waiting for the arrival of a nine-member delegation headed by presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie," Sudan’s ambassador to Qatar, Abdullah al-Faqiri, told AFP.
JEM spokesman Ahmed Adam said some members of the rebel delegation had also been delayed and "will not arrive until late this evening after they were held up by engagements in Cairo."
Earlier, the mediators held a preparatory meeting "aimed at discussing and rendering the Darfur peace talks successful," they said in a joint statement.
The mediators included Arab League chief Amr Mussa, OIC secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihasanoglu, African Union commission chairman Jean Ping, Qatar’s state minister for foreign affairs Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmud and United Nations and African Union chief negotiator on Darfur Djibril Bassole.
Qatar was tasked by the Arab League and the African Union with hosting new peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and the rebels.
The Sudanese ambassador expressed optimism ahead of the talks.
"It is expected that a framework agreement will be signed tomorrow to end hostilities in Darfur," Faqiri told AFP. "The agreement is of a security and military nature."
But the rebels sounded a more pessimistic note.
"The delegation will not sign this agreement, and will present a clear proposition in the opening session," their spokesman said.
"These talks between the Khartoum government and the movement’s delegation are to build trust between both sides.
"I am not optimistic about these talks," he said, adding that JEM negotiators would nonetheless enter them with an "open heart and mind."
Darfur rebels have been critical of Arab-led peace efforts, saying they were designed to save Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir from international court proceedings for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Adam said that whatever the outcome of the case against Beshir, it should not be linked to the current talks.
The UN says about 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003, complaining of discrimination.
Sudan says 10,000 people have died, and denies charges that its soldiers and allied Janjaweed militiamen have committed war crimes and genocide in Darfur.