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Darfur Peace Talks Begin in Libya

Peace talks aimed at ending nearly five years of conflict in Sudan's Darfur region have opened in Libya without key rebel groups in attendance.

Leaders of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army-Unity announced Friday they would not attend Saturday's joint U.N.-African Union sponsored talks in Sirte, Libya.

U.N. envoy to Sudan's Darfur region, Jan Eliasson, had urged the rebel groups to attend the peace talks. He says time is running out to peacefully settle the conflict between rebel groups and the Sudanese government.

JEM's chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugod Lissan, says his group and SLA-Unity are boycotting the talks because of the presence of minor rebel factions, which he says were invited because Khartoum wanted them involved in the talks.

U.N. humanitarian chief for Darfur, John Holmes, says the lack of security in the region is making it increasingly difficult for aid agencies to work.

Abdel Wahid Nur, the leader of another SLA faction previously announced that he would not participate in the talks.

The U.N. is hoping to achieve a political settlement before the planned deployment to Darfur of a joint 26,000 U.N.-AU peacekeeping force by early 2008.

Khartoum signed a peace agreement with one Darfur rebel group last year, but the deal has not stopped deadly violence in the western Sudanese region.

Darfur rebel groups comprised mainly of ethnic Africans rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum nearly five years ago. The fighting between rebels, militias and the government has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced more than two-million others from their homes.

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