Some progress in Darfur, but violence persists: UN official

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While the Darfur peace talks have made some progress, combats between government and rebel forces continue, taking a heavy toll in civilian casualties and displacements, the UN's top emissary in the region said Thursday.

"Results have been mixed despite our best efforts," joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) chief Ibrahim Gambari told the UN Security Council.

Gambari reviewed the situation after three months in western Sudan, where some 300,000 peole have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since a civil war broke out in February 2003.

"In the area of security and the protection of civilians some progress has been made, but pockets of instability remain," Gambari said.

"The peace process," he added, "has progressed but a deep sense of mistrust remains and some parties are not engaging in the process."

The head of UNAMID was alluding to exiled Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) leader, Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur, who refused to join UN-African Union-sponsored peace negotiations in Doha between the region's rebel groups.

"I believe that those who have influence on him really should do a bit more to make his stay uncomfortable, because everybody is appealing to him to return and he has not done so," Gambari later told reporters, referring to France, where Nur resides.

Gambari said he visited Paris twice since taking over UNAMID in January, but was unable to convince Nur to join the negotiations.

He said the invitation to the peace talks was not indefinite: "The window is closing."

In March, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner critized Nur -- "nobody understands his stubbornness" -- for being an obstacle to the Doha peace process, which he said France fully supported.

Sudan signed peace agreements in Qatar capital Dona in March with the small rebel group Liberation and Justice Movement, and in February with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), but the SLA has refused to join the talks.

Gambari referred to these framework peace agreements as signs of progress in the region.

But there was no final, comprehensive peace agreement by a March 15 deadline and JEM broke off from the talks that same month claiming ceasefire violations and resumed attacking government forces.

Combats have also continued between the Sudanese government and the SLA and among tribes in southern Darfur.

"These clashes have caused substantial civilian casualties, the displacement of communities, and hampered the delivery of humanitarian assistance," Gambari said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon "notes with concern" the clashes in Darfur, said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"The secretary-general urges all parties to respect the declared cessation of hostilities and to return to the negotiating table in Doha as soon as possible, with a view to achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Darfur crisis," he added.

© 2010 AFP

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