Five Darfur rebel groups agree to unite
ASMARA (Reuters) - Five Darfur rebel groups agreed on Saturday to unite ahead of possible peace talks to end a four-year conflict in the region which so far has defied resolution, in part because of fractious rebel groups.
In a statement to reporters, the new group, the United Front for Liberation and Development (UFLD), called on other rebels in Sudan's western region to join them.
"This announcement of the formation of the UFLD is preparation for that eventuality (the peace talks) once it takes place," said Sherif Herir, a top leader in one of two Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) factions that signed the agreement in Asmara.
"The door is open for any movements to join," he added.
The Darfur rebels fractured into more than a dozen armed groups after an unpopular peace deal last year with Khartoum that only one faction signed.
International experts estimate that some 200,000 people have died in Darfur in what the United States has termed genocide.
The violence flared after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 accusing Sudan's central government of neglecting the remote, arid western region. Khartoum mobilized brutal militias, called Janjaweed, to quell the revolt. Khartoum denies supporting the Janjaweed puts the death toll at 9,000.
The new rebel group includes two SLA factions, the Revolutionary Democratic Front Forces, the National Movement for Reform and Development and Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance.
The announcement came one day after the rebels met the U.N. envoy for Sudan, Jan Eliasson, ahead of a meeting in Libya this weekend aimed at advancing peace talks among Darfur's rebel groups.
U.N. and African Union envoys have also set a self-imposed August deadline to launch peace negotiations.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki announced on Saturday that Asmara would attend the meeting in the Libyan capital -- scheduled for July 15-16, which would include regional and international envoys discussing the shape of new peace talks.
In talks with Eliasson, Eritrea's leader said more must be done to resolve the conflict in Darfur.
"The president called for stepped-up endeavours so that the Tripoli meeting may reach a joint consensus for the coming forum regarding endeavours to resolve the Darfur issue," said a statement in an Eritrean government newspaper.
Under sustained international pressure, Sudan agreed last month to a combined U.N.-AU peacekeeping force of more than 20,000 troops and police to bolster the cash-strapped AU force of 7,000 already operating in Darfur. The AU troops have failed to stem the violence.
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