- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan has pledged to halt military operations in Darfur, a U.N. spokeswoman said yesterday, but African Union officials said the government had kept up attacks on rebels in the region.

AU officials, in charge of monitoring a truce, said Khartoum had defied a Saturday ultimatum set by AU mediators, who had threatened to refer Sudan and the rebels to the U.N. Security Council.

Two Darfur rebel movements also accused the Sudanese government and the pro-government Janjaweed militia of continued attacks on villages.

Charges and countercharges are common in the war in Darfur, a conflict that has defeated three rounds of peace talks and displaced nearly 2 million people since it began in February 2003.

“The government has pledged to halt all [current] military hostilities in Darfur and asked that the rebels do the same,” said Radhia Achouri, a U.N. spokeswoman, after a security meeting between Sudanese government representatives, the United Nations and Western diplomats.

Mrs. Achouri said the Sudanese government had also agreed to withdraw its troops from some areas in Darfur after it consults with the African Union on exact locations.

A spokesman for the rebel groups said the government and Janjaweed were trying to scuttle the peace talks by staging attacks around the villages of Mala and Arla as late as yesterday morning.

“We’re asking the AU and the international community to put more pressure on the [Sudanese] government to stop these barbaric attacks on civilians,” said Ahmed Tugod Lissan, a spokesman for two rebel groups.

The Sudanese government requested that the United Nations convey a request for cessation of attacks to the rebels, said Mrs. Achouri, “So now we are going to relay this to the other party.”

The rebels did not issue an immediate response.

Mrs. Achouri said the United Nations expressed its “concern and that of the international community” over the recent government military operation, code-named “road clearance,” in the meeting with Sudan.

The war was sparked in February 2003 when two non-Arab African rebel groups took up arms to fight the Arab-dominated Khartoum government, seeking more power and resources.

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