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UN Security Council Welcomes Darfur Goodwill Agreement

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed the signing of an agreement between Sudan's government and the country's main rebel group to pursue a negotiated settlement to the Darfur conflict. But the agreement, signed on Tuesday in Qatar, is not a cease-fire.

Security Council President Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan told reporters that the council commends the talks in Doha as a "step in the right direction," but said the fighting must stop for the peace process to work.

"We do not want to see the talking while fighting. So therefore, we expressed very strong hope that all parties concerned would make the process more inclusive and comprehensive in terms of participation, and also comprehensive in terms of substance - it means that a framework agreement for comprehensive peace agreement as soon as possible," he said.

U.S. envoy Susan Rice said all of the rebel groups will need to be engaged if there is to be a sustained process that will lead to lasting peace.

When asked by reporters whether she sees any linkage between Sudan's signing of the Doha agreement and the possibility of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for atrocities in Darfur, Rice said she does not see any connection.

"I see no linkage. The United States' position has been, and remains, that we see no circumstances or other actions to date that would change our judgment at this point that an Article 16 deferral is unwarranted," she said.

Under Article 16 of the treaty that established the court, the U.N. Security Council has the power to defer charges for up to one year, renewable indefinitely, in situations where it sees fit.

The International Criminal Court has not issued a decision on whether it will grant its chief prosecutor's request for an arrest warrant for President Bashir on 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But a decision could come as early as this week.

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, accused the United States of wanting regime change in his country - something he said will never happen. He predicted the Doha talks would lead to a final settlement of the Darfur conflict that would silence Khartoum's critics.

He said the Darfur issue could be resolved in as little as three months.

The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have died since Darfur rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. Another 2.7 million people have fled their homes.

Sudan says only 10,000 people have died as a result of the conflict.