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Sudan Government, Rebels Set to Start Talks in Qatar


Representatives of Sudan's Justice and Equality rebel movement are set to begin discussions with the Sudanese government this week in Qatar, in a bid to revive a peace process for the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. Rebel representatives have been meeting with Egyptian officials in Cairo before the Qatar talks.

Officials from the Sudanese government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, known as JEM, have begun to arrive in the Qatari capital, Doha.

JEM's head of training and strategic planning, Abdullahi Osman El-Tom told VOA from Ireland that rebel representatives were still meeting with Egyptian officials in Cairo, and that discussions in Qatar were to begin Tuesday.

The negotiations, which will be attended by the joint U.N.-AU mediator, Djibril Bassolé, represent the latest attempt to revive the stalled peace process for the Darfur conflict. JEM, along with most other rebel factions, rejected a 2006 peace agreement, and the group boycotted negotiations held in 2007 in Libya.

The Justice and Equality Movement will be represented in Qatar by Djibril Ibrahim, an advisor to the group's leader, Khalil Ibrahim, and the government side by Nafi'e al Nafi'e, an advisor to President Omar al-Bashir. El-Tom said the discussions are simply a first step to re-establish contact between the two sides.

"We want to meet the other side, that is the government party, just an ice breaker. And then we will try to schedule ways of how to move forward, but the agenda is more or less open," he said. "But the most important thing is to focus on putting an end to the violence in Darfur and improving the situation of the IDPs and refugees."

None of Darfur's numerous other rebel groups will be represented, including factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement.

JEM, which has recently been the most active group militarily, has criticized previous efforts at negotiations for involving too many marginal players. But some observers worry that a process that does not involve at least some of the other more prominent factions will have limited effectiveness.

The discussions follow renewed fighting in Darfur between JEM and government troops.

Last week, government forces retook the town of Muhajeriya in South Darfur, following several days of bombing. JEM had captured the town in January. El-Tom says that the government has continued bombing raids in other parts of Darfur in recent days, and that efforts to stop the latest clashes would be among the issues discussed in Qatar.

In Cairo, JEM representatives met with Egyptian officials about a possible role for Egypt, which borders Sudan to the north, in future negotiations. Egypt is also sending its foreign minister and intelligence chief to Sudan this week.

The discussions will likely include the possible arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for President Bashir on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

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