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Sudanese Rebel Groups to Attend Humanitarian Aid Talks in Geneva

Two rebel groups based in the Darfur region of western Sudan have agreed to participate in talks later this month to allow access for humanitarian aid to the war-torn area. The Sudanese government has also been invited to participate, but it has not yet accepted the offer.

In a joint statement, spokesmen for the rebel Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement said that both organizations would be attending the talks because of their growing concern for the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur.

The meeting, scheduled to take place on February 14 and 15 in Geneva, is being organized by the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

The spokesman for the non-profit group, Andrew Andrea, says the purpose of the meeting is to find a way for humanitarian workers to safely reach an estimated 600,000 people who have been internally displaced by the conflict and another 3.5 million people in the region who need immediate food and water assistance.

"There is, obviously, a large number of people in need of humanitarian assistance and that's what is motivating us to bring the parties together to discuss the issue of humanitarian access," he said. "This meeting is not about political resolution to the conflict. It's purely about getting assistance to those who need it."

Mr. Andrea says the main reason humanitarian organizations have not been able to visit Darfur is because of the continuing violence.

Ever since Chad-sponsored peace talks between the government and the western rebel group, Sudan Liberation Army, broke down in December, the conflict has escalated dramatically. Some 130,000 people have fled western Sudan and are now scattered along the border with Chad.

Earlier this week, the human rights group, Amnesty International, blamed the Sudanese government for creating much of the humanitarian crisis. It accused government troops of conducting what the group calls indiscriminate bombing raids on civilians and cooperating with local Arab militias to attack villages.

The Center for Humanitarian Dialogue says the participation of the government in Khartoum is crucial to the success of the meeting in Geneva. But Mr. Andrea says Sudanese officials have not yet accepted the group's invitation.

He says representatives from the center are traveling to Khartoum next week to meet with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha and to persuade him to attend the talks.

The conflict in western Sudan erupted early last year after rebels took up arms to protest decades of economic and political neglect by the government.

Sudan's president, Omar Al-Bashir, has called the rebels traitors and has vowed to crush the resistance.