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29.04.2006 Sudan

Pressure grows for Darfur peace


International mediators in the Darfur conflict in Sudan are making a final push for parties to meet Sunday's deadline for a peace agreement.

The Khartoum government says it will sign, but African Union negotiators at talks in Nigeria are struggling to overcome reservations by rebel groups.

The deal calls for pro-government Arab militias to be disarmed, and rebel fighters merged into Sudan's forces.

The details emerged as the top UN human rights official was set to visit Sudan.

Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will spend six days in the country - a visit that will take in Darfur.

About 200,000 people have died and some two million have been left homeless since the conflict began in the province in 2003.

Late on Saturday a spokesman for the Khartoum delegation said: "The government is prepared to sign the document even with our reservations."

He added that the reservations were "important but they are not as important as to spoil the peace process".

Senior envoys from the UN and the African Union (AU) have been holding talks with the rebels, "as part of intensive efforts to convince the parties to sign the peace agreement", AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni told AFP.

One-off transfer

Top AU mediator Salim Ahmed Salim said the deal could not be changed.

"We have done everything that is possible to make an agreement possible," he said.

"We told the parties that as far the mediation is concerned this is the best we can do in the circumstances."

The peace deal, hammered out over many months, aims to end what Darfur rebels say is long-standing neglect of the province by the Khartoum government.

The 85-page draft calls for a one-off transfer of $300m to Darfur, with $200m a year for the region thereafter.

It also contains proposals for power-sharing, disarming Arab Janjaweed militias and integrating rebels into the armed forces.

Rebels leaders have expressed reservations - with some reportedly demanding the Sudanese vice-presidency.

There are also concerns over the way rebel forces are due to be merged into army units.

US protests

Rebel spokesman Ahmed Tugod told AFP that the two guerrilla groups would agree on a common position and present it AU mediators.

The AU - which has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur - has struggled to stop the violence between the rebels and the government-backed Janjaweed militias.

The UN envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk, says 400 people are now being killed each month in the fighting - double the number that it was a few months ago.

In the United States, protests are planned in several cities over the weekend to increase pressure on the Sudanese government.

On Friday, US President George W Bush endorsed the rallies, saying "genocide" in Sudan was unacceptable.

"I want the Sudanese government to understand the United States of America is serious about solving this problem," he said.

"We expect the Sudanese government... to make a more concerted effort to control the Janjaweed and protect human life."