Prospects for an end to violence in Darfur remain bleak despite a UN plan to deploy 26,000 troops to the war-torn region, with some 22 representatives of rebel groups stopped by Sudanese government forces on their way to talks in the country's south.
"Now we have less humanitarian aid and more people in need, and more difficulty in getting the humanitarian aid going. We don't have a clear presence of troops that can really protect people and we don't have a peace process either," Juan Mendes, who served as the U.N.'s special advisor on the prevention of genocide from 2004 to
2007, told AFP.
Mendes was among diplomats, academics, human rights activists and survivors of genocide who attended the three-day conference sponsored by McGill University's law faculty.
The crisis of Darfur, described as "genocide in slow motion," dominated discussions at the event, which wrapped up on Saturday.
This comes as rebel leaders accused the Khartoum government of blocking their steps to build a consensus before peace talks set for Oct. 27 in Libya.
They arrived Friday safely in Juba, south Sudan's capital, after they were besieged at an airstrip Thursday for three hours, said Clement Janda, head of a taskforce organizing the talks.
"The SAF (Sudan Armed Forces) went and besieged the airstrip where the local commanders were being airlifted," said Kuol Diem Kuol, the south Sudan army spokesman.
The aircraft were released from the airstrip in the north Darfur town of Kotum after Sudan's Foreign Affairs Minister Lam Akol and others intervened, Kuol said.
There was no immediate comment from the Sudanese government.
At least 200,000 people have died in Darfur and two million others have been displaced since the Sudanese government enlisted a militia to put down an ethnic minority revolt that broke out in 2003.
The United Nations now plans to send thousands of peacekeepers to the region to reinforce poorly equipped forces from the African Union.
But U.N. officials admitted this week that the new joint force lacked crucial equipment such as aircraft and night-vision technology.
Gerard Prunier, author of "Darfur, the Ambiguous Genocide," said he doubted the peacekeeping mission could make a difference.
"I do not believe that an international force deployed in Darfur is going to amount to much and do much of anything," he told AFP.
"Right now they don't even have any combat helicopters and even if they had them, would they have the mandate to use them? Right now the poor guys (from the African Union force) have almost no equipment," Prunier said.
The SPLM signed a peace deal with Khartoum in 2005. Months of disagreement over implementation culminated in the withdrawal of SPLM ministers from the national government Thursday.