Several unofficial or semi-official attempts, alongside the official mediation, were made to reinvigorate the faltering Darfur peace talks in 2004 and 2005.
The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) is based in Geneva and enjoys a close relationship with the UN. It developed contacts with the armed opposition groups in an attempt at direct mediation to broker a ceasefire to secure humanitarian access for relief organisations. Talks scheduled for February 2004 failed to materialise amidst somewhat acrimonious press releases making claims and counter-claims about whether the GoS had agreed to attend or had even been invited. Once positions have been staked out publicly, it is difficult for either side to show weakness by backing down. Moreover, a track two organisation is always in danger of being perceived or accused of being in the pocket of the other side and public knowledge of contact with one side can strengthen this suspicion. At the time, a confusing situation prevailed as many international agencies sought ways of bringing the GoS, the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) together, after the fragile ceasefire mediated by the Chadian government in September 2003 broke down in December.
However, in April 2004 the CHD was closely involved in assisting the Government of Chad with its mediation of the first formal talks in N'Djamena, which culminated in a ceasefire agreement, and in the ensuing discussions on technical arrangements. It also subsequently facilitated various meetings for relief NGOs and donor representatives with the opposition groups and the GoS in Geneva and provided technical assistance to the early rounds of negotiations mediated by the African Union (AU) in Abuja.
In May 2005, the Roman Catholic peace community of Sant'Egidio, which has had extensive involvement in peace talks in Africa (especially Mozambique), brought representatives of the SLM/A and JEM together after the Abuja talks appeared to be stalled while the parties waited to assess the effectiveness of the SPLM/A's participation in the new Government of National Unity. At a meeting in Rome, the movements met representatives of the AU and agreed to "resume as soon as possible the Abuja negotiations under the auspices of the African Union without preconditions."
Various international experts were involved in providing support to the AU at Abuja, whether as individual consultants or as representatives of NGOs like Justice Africa or Concordis International. As the talks dragged on, the dividing lines between track one and track two became more blurred than had been the case in the IGAD-mediated talks between the GoS and the SPLM/A. IGAD, under Lazaro Sumbeiywo, was perhaps in a better position to build a permanent secretariat than the AU, which had to seek assistance for a sporadic process on a more ad hoc basis. In addition, IGAD was working with more unified and disciplined negotiating teams.
Meanwhile, Concordis facilitated three research-based track two consultations for Darfurians between September 2004 and August 2005 covering some of the longer-term issues such as land use and tenure, and made the agreed conclusions available to the parties and mediators at Abuja. Arguably, such inputs could have been more effectively exploited to broaden the negotiations from their focus on power-sharing, wealth-sharing and security arrangements. The impression was given that these three subject areas, 'borrowed' from the structure of the north-south process, had already brought the talks close to the limits of complexity that they could handle.
A small but inclusive consultation for eastern Sudanese on access to resources in the region in February 2005 led to a continuing pre-negotiation effort on the east by Concordis International over the following months. Originally envisaged as an informal dialogue between the GoS and the Eastern Front (EF) following the NDA's June 2005 Cairo Agreement, the attempts stumbled over the EF's reluctance to engage in such low-profile meetings. The prospect of UN-mediated negotiations, suggested to the EF in mid-2005, confirmed their unwillingness to go down the informal route. It is important to recognise the crucial importance of international publicity and profile for armed opposition groups. They are often keenly aware of their military weakness relative to governments and see international support and status as a powerful weapon to be exploited through the use of press statements. Unfortunately this can lead to hardening positions from which neither side can retreat, making it more difficult to accommodate compromise.
As an alternative means of moving the process forward after the UN mediation option dissipated, Concordis ran a series of workshops for the EF in November 2005 in Asmara, designed to help the EF unify and negotiate constructively and confidently, and continued to encourage them to negotiate with the GoS. Several different possibilities for mediation were considered over the following months and rejected by one side or the other, but the training provided by Concordis was a significant factor in the decision of the EF to enter the negotiations that opened in April 2006 under Eritrean mediation. These proceeded with limited external assistance and concluded in October 2006 with an agreement modelled on the CPA and DPA.