KHARTOUM, Oct 19: A new Darfur rebel alliance is ready for talks with the government but demands self-determination for the war-torn, arid west of the country, senior rebel leaders said today.
A May peace accord was signed by only one of three negotiating rebel factions and tens of thousands of war victims have rejected it saying it does not give them enough compensation or Darfuris enough political representation.
Following the agreement signed in the Nigerian capital Abuja, non-signatory rebels formed a new alliance called the National Redemption Front (NRF) and renewed hostilities against the government.
''We are ready for talks with the government,'' said Khalil Ibrahim, a senior member of the NRF. ''But we ... will not just accept the Abuja agreement, we want separate talks.'' ''We now want self-determination, autonomy for Darfur,'' he added.
Ibrahim said the NRF wanted a similar deal to one reached to end more than two decades of north-south civil war. That agreement gave the south autonomy and the right to a referendum on secession by 2011.
Fighting has escalated in Darfur since the May deal and a struggling cash-strapped African Union force has been powerless to stem the violence.
UN envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk said the government lost two battles with the NRF in North Darfur earlier this month and took heavy losses. There was no immediate Sudanese army confirmation. Thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the latest fighting, sparking warnings of a return to the emergency of 2003 and 2004 when UN officials said Darfur was the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
SIT FOR TALKS
Senior NRF leader Bahr Idriss Abu Garda told Reuters from Darfur that field commanders were ready to talk but were waiting for the government.
''If the government is ready to make new talks and add the actual demands of the people of Darfur we are ready to sit for talks,'' he added.
Foreign Minister Lam Akol said the government had not received any official confirmation of a desire for negotiations from the NRF.
The government calls the NRF ''terrorists''.
The government has repeatedly refused to entertain the idea of secession for Darfur. Khartoum and the rebel faction that signed the Abuja deal have both so far refused to accept any changes or additions to the unpopular agreement.
But the top UN envoy in Khartoum has said additions are needed to the deal bring all those non-signatories on board and stop the bloodshed in Darfur.
Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing central government of neglecting the remote west.
Experts estimate 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million forced from their homes in 3-1/2 years of conflict.
The government armed Arab militias to quell the revolt. The militia, known locally as Janjaweed, stand accused of a campaign of rape, murder and pillage, called genocide by Washington.
Khartoum denies genocide and calls the Janjaweed ''bandits''.
The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the region.