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Sudan Promises to Stop Darfur Offensive


African Union (AU) mediators at Darfur peace talks in Nigeria are trying to have rebel groups end their boycott, after receiving assurances from Sudan's government it will stop its offensive.

Delegates from Darfur's two main rebel groups have been boycotting the talks with Khartoum government representatives since Monday, calling for Sudan's army to stop ongoing attacks in Darfur.

Instead, mediators have been holding talks with the two sides separately. The attacks violate an existing cease-fire.

African Union spokesman Assane Ba says efforts to get the talks revived suddenly made progress when government negotiators gave assurances the attacks would end.

"We let them know in order for us to be able to keep up with the talks, they need to stop the offensive and to withdraw from the positions they are holding, to go back to their previous positions," he said. "Today they are telling us the government of Sudan has decided to stop any offensive and to withdraw from previous positions. That is a positive development because I think if we tell that to the (rebel) movements we will be able to resume the talks."

The rebels had no immediate reaction. Even if they accept a resumption of negotiations, Mr. Ba said the talks would not start again before Friday.

Late Thursday there will be a meeting of the joint cease-fire commission, which he says, will study how to avoid future violations.

Government negotiaters have accused rebels of initiating the new fighting, but government spokesman Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim says it is ready to make a concession to give the peace talks a chance.

"We do agree that we stop these activities and we are ready to move the forces to wherever they should be," he said. "We will hand over the information we have to the joint commission. So we just assured that and I think it was a positive meeting. Hopefully, the other side will come with a positive reply as well. If they would do so that may take us to a position to start negotiating."

Mediators have been hoping a comprehensive peace deal that includes the sharing of oil wealth could be reached before the end of next week. The 22-month conflict pitting black African rebels against the Arab-led army and pro-government militias has killed tens of thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their villages.

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