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Darfur Rebels Call for Peace Talks Within 3 Months


After three days of talks in Tanzania, several rebel factions involved in the Darfur conflict put forward a united front Monday and called for new peace negotiations with the Sudanese government in two to three months. Nick Wadhams has more from our East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

The eight rebel groups meeting in Arusha say they now have a common position heading into any future talks with Khartoum over the crisis in Darfur, where some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million fled their homes in four years of fighting.

The talks were organized by the African Union and the United Nations, and come a week after the U.N. Security Council approved a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Initial optimism about the peacekeeping force and the Tanzania negotiations were dampened by the refusal of some rebel groups to participate. Chief among them was Abdelwahid al-Nur, one of the founders of the Darfur uprising.

He says he wants the U.N. troops in place and a no-fly zone established before he takes part in the talks.

Nonetheless, analysts say that the meeting is important because the rebels are giving the Khartoum government a force to be reckoned with. The rebel groups also said they would remain open to the future participation of groups that didn't take part.

"This is only to get the movements unified. And if they've made any progress in that direction, that's really significant," said Hannah Stogdon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. "That hasn't happened since the conflict started really. What's been a priority is the unification of these movements so that Khartoum feels like it has a more formidable opponent so that it has to respond accordingly."

Bashir's government has said it is open to talks with the rebels but does not want significant changes to a peace agreement signed with some rebels in Abuja, Nigeria in 2006. That deal failed to stop the violence in Darfur and many rebel groups only fractured further after it was signed.

The African Union mediator to the talks, Salim Ahmed Salim, says he wants the sides to commit to a cease-fire.

At the end of the talks, the groups released a statement promising to ensure that Darfur remains open to humanitarian groups. They will also seek talks with Mr. Bashir's government within three months.

It now must be seen whether the rebels can stick to the deal, and whether it will be received well. Another leading figure, the humanitarian coordinator of the Sudan Liberation Army, remains all but imprisoned.

Suleiman Jammous has been in a U.N. hospital near Darfur for more than a year and the Khartoum government says he will be arrested if he tries to leave. The factions believe that Jammous could help jump-start the limited relief work in Darfur and could also help unite the various rebels.

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