Chad-Sudan thaw crucial: Mbeki

ADDIS ABABA: Normalising ties between Khartoum and N'Djamena is a prerequisite for peace in Sudan's troubled western region of Darfur, special envoy Thabo Mbeki said on Saturday.

"The relations between Chad and Sudan should be normalised, if not it will be difficult to find a solution to the Darfur crisis," the former South African president said.

Mbeki chairs an African Union (AU) panel tasked with boosting peace efforts in Darfur was speaking at the continental organisation's headquarters to report on his progress after visiting both countries.

"We are still on a listening tour. We wanted to go to Sudan and visit the neighbours of Sudan. People are in the process of identifying what they believe are the crucial issues that have to be addressed to bring peace in Sudan," he said.

Diplomatic relations between Chad and Sudan are severely strained, with each accusing the other of supporting rebel movements in its territory.

Mbeki heads a three-member delegation that also includes former Nigerian president Abdusalami Abubakar and former Burundian president Pierre Buyoya. They are next expected in Qatar.

Efforts to solve the six-year-old conflict in Darfur were rattled by the arrest warrant the International Criminal Court issued against Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir in March for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Mbeki said he was planning to meet ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to discuss the warrant, which the AU has criticised as counter-productive in efforts to bring peace to Darfur.

"We have some contacts with the ICC, with the prosecutor, Mister Ocampo, and we have agreed that we would find an occasion as soon as possible to meet face to face with him," he said.

Some 300,000 people have died in Darfur since the civil conflict erupted in February 2003 and more than 2.7 million been displaced, according to UN figures. Khartoum acknowledges only 10,000 dead.