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As Sudan Deadline Passes, Darfur Rebels Pressed to Sign Peace Deal

By Joel Brinkley
and Lydia Polgreen
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

As the latest deadline for a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels passed Thursday, American, European and African leaders stepped up the pressure on the rebels to sign it, diplomats said, and an agreement seemed close.

Late Thursday, the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, invited all the negotiators to his presidential villa to provide a formal setting for the signing, should it come. In New York, Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, called an emergency meeting on Sudan and asked representatives from 18 nations, plus the European Commission, the Arab League and the African Union, to press both sides to reach an agreement.

The efforts appeared to be the culmination of a week of intensive negotiation over a draft peace agreement intended to end more than three years of carnage in the Darfur Province of Sudan that has left more than 200,000 people dead.

As the midnight deadline approached in Nigeria, where the peace talks were held, the diplomats and heads of state gathered in a plush conference room on the grounds of the presidential villa. With 40 minutes to go, negotiators for the rebel movements arrived, dressed in suits and ties, not military fatigues, as they had worn the day before. But no one said a deal had been reached.

“Our people sent us here to bring back their rights,” Abdul Wahad al-Nur, the chief negotiator for one of the factions of the Sudanese Liberation Movement, one of the rebel groups, said at the villa. “We cannot accept anything less than their minimum rights. Other than that, it is too early to make any comments.”

Proposed revisions of the agreement would allow a few thousand rebels to join the Sudanese army instead of a few hundred, and would force the government-backed janjaweed militias to disarm and withdraw at an earlier stage than previously stipulated.