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Darfur Rebel Meeting Likely to Extend Through Monday

Rebel factions from Darfur are holding a third day of talks aimed at unifying their stance for possible peace negotiations with the Sudanese government.

The talks in Tanzania have brought together political and military leaders of Darfur's many rebel groups. The United Nations and African Union, which are sponsoring the conference, want the groups to reach a common platform for the peace talks.

The AU's Darfur envoy, Salim Ahmed Salim, says those talks are expected within two months.

The meeting in the resort city of Arusha was originally scheduled to end Sunday, but participants say it may extend through Monday.

About 12 rebel groups are taking part in the meeting, while at least two key rebel leaders have refused to participate.

A spokesman, Yahia Bolad, for the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), one of the key rebel groups, told VOA his group is not taking part in the talks because it feels it is pointless to talk politics while violence persists. He says the SLM will start the political process when it sees U.N. troops on the ground.

The U.N. Security Council authorized a 26-thousand-strong U.N.-A.U. peacekeeping mission on Tuesday.

U.N. officials estimate more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million others have been displaced since the conflict between Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government broke out in early 2003.

Khartoum is accused of supporting militias blamed for murder, rape and the destruction of villages in Darfur. Sudanese officials deny those allegations and also claim a much lower death toll.

A May 2006 peace deal, signed by only one of three prominent rebel groups, has done little to quell the violence.

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