Sudan rebels pledge no new attacks in Darfur

ABUJA, Nigeria - Sudan rebels pledged Tuesday not to launch any attacks in the Darfur region as long as government soldiers kept their promise of a cease-fire, while African Union mediators ended peace talks that reached a stalemate after 11 days.

The cease-fire pledge came as the British aid group Save the Children UK said it was pulling out of Darfur because four of its workers have been killed there since October. Two Sudanese workers died Dec. 12 when their convoy came under fire in South Darfur.

The AU blamed Darfur's largest insurgent group, the Sudan Liberation Army, for the attack. Save the Children had 350 staff in Darfur, providing 250,000 people with health care, food and education, Mike Aaronson, the group's director general, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern at the deteriorating situation in Darfur, and the council warned it would consider "a full range of options" if fighting did not stop. The United Nations has called the situation in Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

On Tuesday, a SLA representative said fighters will not initiate any attacks in Darfur.

"As long as we're not attacked, we will not shoot," Abduljabbar Dossa said.

Sudan state media reported Monday that the government ordered troops in three areas of Darfur to observe an immediate cease-fire. However, Sudan Interior Ministry official Ahmed Mohammed Haroun said Tuesday the government would not tolerate attacks on "vital interests, especially those related to oil."

The African Union currently has 800 soldiers and 100 observers in Darfur. AU spokesman Assane Ba said both sides were recommitted to a cease-fire pact that was roundly ignored after being reached in April.

However, talks in Abuja made no apparent progress toward a permanent solution to the nearly two years of fighting, which the World Health Organization says have killed 70,000 people through disease and hunger. Nearly 2 million people are believed to have fled their homes since the fighting started in February 2003.

That is when two non-Arab African rebel groups - the SLA and the Justice and Equality Movement - took up arms seeking more power and resources from the Arab-dominated government in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

The Sudanese government responded by backing an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, which is accused of targeting civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson. The United States accuses the Janjaweed of committing genocide.

The African Union intends to deploy 4,000 soldiers in Darfur. On Tuesday, the Security Council asked the U.N. Secretariat, which Annan heads, "to consider further steps to galvanize and facilitate the rapid deployment" of that force.

Annan said the international community must provide "all possible assistance" to speed up that deployment.

Two Security Council resolutions have threatened possible sanctions, and the council said it was ready "to consider a full range of options" to pressure the parties to comply with previous resolutions.


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