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Sudan Ready for Truce with Darfur Rebels

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir said Friday his government is ready to announce a cease-fire with rebel forces. During a visit to Rome, al-Bashir said the truce will coincide with the start of peace talks over the conflict in Darfur. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is on a three-day visit to Italy with a large delegation, holding meetings with top Italian leaders and Pope Benedict XVI. He arrived Thursday afternoon, and his first official meeting was with the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Following early morning talks Friday with Mr. Prodi, the two leaders held a joint press conference. Mr. al-Bashir announced his government is ready for a truce with Darfur rebels to coincide with the start of peace talks over the conflict. Talks are scheduled to begin October 27 in Libya.

The Sudanese president also said that he asked Mr. Prodi to push European countries to pressure rebel leaders to take part in the Libyan talks. He also said that he hopes the negotiations in Tripoli will bring peace.

The Italian prime minister praised Mr. Bashir's offer of a cease-fire, saying it is a strong signal.

Following his talks with Mr. Prodi, the Sudanese president traveled to the Pope's summer residence in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, where he held 25 minutes of talks with Pope Benedict.

A statement by the Vatican said the pope and Mr. Bashir discussed the political and religious situation in Darfur and the possibility of a peace agreement.

The statement added that the Vatican expressed the hope that the peace talks in Libya will help put an end to the suffering of the people of Darfur and that development projects in the country will be launched.