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UN, AU Meet on Peace Talks For Darfur

Representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and Darfur rebel factions are meeting in Tanzania, with the goal of establishing a platform and timeline for peace talks.

Representatives from some 12 rebel factions are expected to take part in the three-day meeting that began Friday in the resort city of Arusha.

Congolese envoy Pascal Gayama has said the talks in Tanzania will focus on the political settlement needed for peace in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

Diplomats hope to establish common ground among the rebel groups before the start of negotiations with the Khartoum government. No date for those talks has been set, but AU Darfur envoy Salim Ahmed Salim says they are expected within two months.

Yahia Bolad, a spokesman for one of the key rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), tells VOA it is not taking part in the talks because the group feels it is pointless to talk politics while violence persists. He says the SLM will start the political process when it sees U.N. troops on the ground.

Separately, the African Union's commissioner for peace and security, Sa'id Djninnit, says five African nations (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia) have offered troops for a joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping mission authorized Tuesday by the U.N. Security Council.

French troops also are expected to join the 26,000-strong force.

Since the conflict between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government broke out in early 2003, U.N. officials estimate it has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced over two million others.

Khartoum is accused of supporting militias blamed for atrocities that include murder, rape and the destruction of villages. Sudanese officials deny those allegations and also claim a much lower death toll.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.