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Sudan Declares Unilateral Cease-Fire as Darfur Peace Talks Begin


The Sudanese government has announced a unilateral cease-fire in Darfur at the opening of peace talks aimed at ending nearly five years of conflict in the region.

Sudanese presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie announced the immediate, unilateral cease-fire as the joint U.N.-African Union-sponsored talks opened Saturday in Sirte, Libya.

The Reuters news agency reports leaders of the rebel Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance expressed doubts about the announcement, saying the government has failed to honor previous cease-fires.

The talks opened without key rebel groups in attendance. Leaders of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army-Unity (SLA-Unity) had announced Friday they would not attend the meetings.

JEM's chief negotiator 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.

The leader of another SLA faction previously announced that he would not participate in the talks.

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.

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.

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

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 2 million others from their homes.

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

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