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Darfur talks stall after rebels boycott

Top rebel leaders refused to attend peace negotiations in Libya this weekend, forcing officials to postpone what the UN calls Darfur's 'moment of truth.'

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Darfur's "moment of truth," it seems, will have to wait.

With two of the larger rebel factions boycotting this weekend's UN-negotiated talks in Sirte, Libya, with Sudan continuing to delay deployment of the larger 26,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, and with battles spreading out of Darfur into the oil-rich region of Kordofan, UN chief mediator Jan Eliasson called for the talks to be postponed for three weeks.

"Only after that period ... of approximately three weeks, will we go into substantial negotiations," Mr. Eliasson told the Associated Press on Sunday, adding that more rebel chiefs are expected to arrive for talks within that time.

Yet despite the setback, UN and African Union mediators say that the very fact that the peace talks have started is progress that demands international pressure and support.

"We may have a very dangerous development if we miss this opportunity," said Eliasson, speaking to reporters by video conference before the talks began.

Some experts say the Darfur talks could last several months. But while some rebel groups have appealed for more time to find a common position against the government, the UN says that this crushing conflict has already taken too many lives, and it is prepared to "take action against any party" that might undermine the peace process, violate any negotiated cease-fire, or attack humanitarian aid groups. With hard talk like this, the UN itself may be facing a "moment of truth," just like the rebels and the Sudanese government.

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