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Sudan president's absence stalls talks

Latest update : 2008-03-13

Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir blamed a headache for his failure to attend an important meeting with Chad's President Idriss on Wednesday, the latest hiccup in the quest to sign a peace accord.

DAKAR, March 13 (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir was due to attend a rescheduled peace accord signing
with Chad's President Idriss on Thursday after failing to show
up on Wednesday and telling mediators he had a headache.

The mediators hope the non-aggression pact will end years of
hostility between Sudan and Chad that has often brought the two
oil-producing neighbours close to all-out war.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, U.N. Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon and African, U.S. and European diplomats waited for
almost three hours on Wednesday for Bashir to turn up.

"He rang me up. He said he'd been travelling, that he'd been
in Dubai the day before and that he had a headache," Wade said
on the steps of his Dakar palace with fellow mediator, President
Omar Bongo of Gabon, by his side.

"He asked me to postpone it until (Thursday) morning," said
Wade, adding the meeting would now take place after the opening
ceremony of a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic
Conference in the Senegalese capital.

When cameramen were allowed in for a photo opportunity, the
chair meant for Bashir was empty and the assembled heads of
state and diplomats looked visibly annoyed.

Some said there were doubts about whether the pact would be
signed at all.

Wade, who has sought a mediation role in several African
conflicts, drafted the accord to be signed by Deby and Bashir in
the hope it can help end years of conflict on both sides of
their common border that includes the Darfur region.



The border area has become a battleground for Sudanese and
Chadian rebel groups fighting both in Sudan's Darfur region and
in eastern Chad. Khartoum and N'Djamena accuse each other of
supporting insurgents.

Bashir, who accuses Deby of failing to respect previous
deals to stop backing insurgents, has questioned the usefulness
of another accord on paper.

Rebels from both Chad and the Darfur region, seen by many as
fighting a proxy war for the feuding presidents, have dismissed
the planned pact, criticising it for failing to include them and
saying it would not bring lasting peace.

"It's going nowhere. It's just a protocol, a ceremony," said
Ali Ordjo Hemchi, a representative of the Chadian rebel National
Alliance, whose forces raided the capital N'Djamena last month.

"They can sign, but it's not going to produce anything,"
said Hemchi, adding that at least five previous accords,
brokered mostly by Libya but also by Saudi Arabia, had
collapsed. "It's a non-event."

Sudan's rebels took a similar line.

"The Khartoum government has signed agreements with Chad ...
agreements with the United Nations. And still our people are
getting killed," said Sudan Liberation Army chairman Abdel Wahed
Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur.

About 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 in Darfur's
conflict, which pits Sudanese government forces and allied
militia against local rebels who say the western region has been
neglected and marginalised by the Khartoum government.

Alex de Waal, an analyst and writer who specialises in Sudan
and Chad, said he did not believe either Deby or Bashir were
interested in non-military options.

"If they do sign, it'll be purely for tactical reasons to
gain credit with the international community," he said.

Date created : 2008-03-13