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Darfur Peace Talks Open in Addis Ababa - 2004-07-15

The Sudanese government and two rebel groups operating in the Darfur region have opened talks to end their long-standing conflict in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

The Chadian government and the African Union are the mediators in talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement.

Observers from the United States, European Union, France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands are also taking part.

The spokesman for the African Union, Desmond Orjiako, said the Sudanese government and rebels would then go into closed-door negotiations that are expected to continue into Friday.

"This political dialogue will hope to discuss at the highest level ways and means to bring the conflict to a halt, to stabilize the situation in Darfur, to ensure that the internally-displaced persons and the refugees return to the comfort of their homes," he said.

Mr. Orjiako said the African Union cease-fire monitoring commission, which opened its headquarters last month in the northern Darfur town of al-Fashir, is expected to give its report during the talks.

The commission was set up to check out whether the Sudanese government and rebel groups are abiding by a cease-fire agreement they signed in April.

Mr. Orjiako said there are more than 20 African Union military observers on the ground in Darfur. At the African Union summit earlier this month, member states decided to send 300 troops to protect the observers.

The talks follow a meeting last weekend between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Chadian President Idriss Deby over the crisis in Darfur.

The two decided to set up a joint border patrol force to stop cross-border attacks and raids on refugees and Chadian security forces by "janjaweed" militia operating in Darfur.

Fighting between the rebels and government broke out in Darfur more than a year ago. The rebels say they are struggling against economic and ethnic repression by the government, while the government attributes the fighting to thugs and criminal elements.

More than 10,000 civilians are believed to have been killed and up to one million displaced by the conflict.