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Sudan, Darfur Rebels Agree to Cease-Fire - 2004-04-08

Sudan's government says it has reached agreement with rebels to halt fighting in order to deliver humanitarian aid in the volatile western region of Darfur. The government earlier said it had signed a cease-fire deal, but this was denied by one of the two western rebel groups.

A Sudanese government official, Najeeb al-Kheir Abdul Wahab, said agreement on an immediate cease-fire had been reached late Wednesday between Sudan and rebels from the western Darfur region.

Rebel groups launched a revolt in February of last year, after accusing the Sudanese government of backing Arab militias attacking African villages.

U.N. officials have estimated that more than one million people have been displaced by the conflict. International aid agencies warn the fighting is creating a humanitarian crisis.

Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the conflict ethnic cleansing, and warned that, if all else failed, military action should not be ruled out.

The Sudanese government rejected any outside interference in the conflict.

Sudanese officials say they hope the cease-fire, negotiated in Chad, will allow the parties time to seek a political solution and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region.

Negotiations aimed at ending the conflict began Tuesday, when Chad's President Idriss Deby brought the parties together, along with observers from the United States and the European Union.

Also Wednesday, President Bush suggested Washington would refuse to normalize relations with Sudan, until the conflict in the Darfur region ends.

The Sudanese government is involved in peace negotiations to end more than two decades of civil war between the Islamic government in the north, and mostly Christian and animist rebels in the south. A senior U.S. official said in Kenya, where the peace talks are taking place, that a framework peace agreement may be signed by this weekend.

But rebels in the west of Sudan are not taking part in the Kenya talks, and human rights officials in Sudan say stopping war in one area of the country will have little meaning, if fighting only continues elsewhere.