Two stories that update the earlier batch:
Two Darfur rebel groups refused on Thursday to sign a peace deal ahead of a deadline set by the African Union to end the three-year-old conflict that has killed tens of thousands in Sudan's remote west.
The African Union, set up to promote social, political and economic integration in Africa, has raised the spectre of U.N. sanctions against Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) if they did not sign before the May 31 deadline.
The AU's Peace and Security Council will now decide what, if any, punitive measures are to be taken against the two factions who say an earlier deal signed by one group on May is unjust and does not meet their basic demands.
The council will meet in the coming days although no date has been set. Many AU deadlines have been set and missed over the past two years of negotiations without any repercussions.
Only one SLA faction headed by Minni Arcua Minnawi signed the AU-mediated May 5 deal with the government. Minnawi told Reuters the others needed to sign up to address their concerns from within rather than be outside in the cold.
"Let them hurry to sign," he said. "If they join the agreement they can develop things but whenever they are outside they cannot develop the document."
But he said no changes could be made to the current deal.
Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur, the other SLA faction leader, is in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but his group said he would not sign unless changes or additions were made to the text, conditions which the AU and Sudan's government reject.
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) leader Khalil Ibrahim, in last-minute talks with Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek, said the deal was not acceptable.
"We are calling on the United Nations and international mediators to be patient, not to hurry up, not to force an unacceptable peace on people of Darfur," he told a news conference in Ljubljana.
Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek said he would continue to talk to JEM to try to find a solution. "If other actors in negotiations will be ready to prolong the deadline Slovenia is ready to help."
While Minnawi's rebel faction has the most firepower in Darfur, Nur is from the region's largest Fur tribe. Analysts say he may cause a split along ethnic lines if he does not sign.
The SLA and JEM have said they want more political posts, better compensation for the victims of the conflict and a say in disarming the government-armed Arab militia, who are blamed for much of the violence on the ground.
Other armed groups, including the militia, known as Janjaweed, who were not represented at the Abuja talks also need to be brought on board to accept the deal.
More than two million, mostly non-Arab, Darfuris have fled their homes to miserable camps, which have become tinderboxes of violence as thousands demonstrate against the deal on offer.
A deadline for the two remaining rebel groups in Sudan's Darfur region to sign up to a peace deal has expired.
There has been no word on whether the Justice and Equality Movement or a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) have accepted the agreement.
African Union (AU) mediators had been trying to persuade both groups to sign the deal before the midnight deadline (2100 GMT Wednesday) passed.
The two factions have demanded changes to the text of the 5 May agreement.
Talks with the groups have been continuing both in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and in Slovenia, where its president is leading negotiations.
AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni told AFP news agency that AU commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare Konare would "indicate the next steps to be taken" on Thursday.
Darfur's biggest rebel group earlier this month signed a peace deal aimed at ending three years of conflict, in which least 200,000 people have died and some 2 [million] have fled their homes.
However, the remaining rebel groups are asking for:
- More political posts in a proposed transitional government
- A say in the disarmament of pro-government militias
- Compensation for victims of the conflict
The rebels took up arms in February 2003, accusing the government of discriminating against Darfur's black Africans in favour of Arabs.
The Sudanese army and the pro-government Janjaweed militia then began attacking civilians in Darfur, driving people from their homes and attacking refugee camps.
Aid agencies say Darfur is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. A lack of money and insecurity means aid workers cannot reach parts of the region.
Sudan denies arming the Arab militias and says the problems have been exaggerated.