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Sudan Peace Talks Open in Nigeria - 2004-08-23

Sudanese officials and leaders of two rebel groups opened talks Monday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in an effort to end the fighting in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Earlier talks ended in July when the government refused to accept the rebels' preconditions.

The new talks open just one week before the United Nations' deadline for the Sudanese government to end the violence is due to expire.

More than one million civilians have been displaced, or have fled to neighboring Chad to escape fighting between the rebel factions and the government-backed Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed.

Nigerian presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo says she is optimistic that the talks in Abuja will bring peace to Sudan.

"I think it is important that we give them a chance," she said. "There is no human being that does not desire peace, and we believe here in Nigeria under the leadership of President [Olusegun] Obasanjo that the stake-holders to Sudan and those who love peace and those who are true and genuine Africans would want to see these peace talks work. And we believe that it will work."

Ms. Oyo says leaders of the two main rebel factions, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, as well as representatives from the Sudanese government and heads of state from Chad and Libya have been invited to the talks. She says Nigeria is prepared to keep the talks going, until there is an agreement.

"I think it's important that the international community also gives support to these peace talks, and allow the people that are involved to speak together and come out with one voice as to the way that Sudan should proceed in peace," she said. "So, I will not want to preempt the outcome of the discussion or to say how long it is going to take, because that is for the peacemakers and the stakeholders themselves to decide."

Nigeria's President Obasanjo, who is also the chairman of the African Union, spoke on Nigerian television Sunday to promote a greater role for the African Union in Sudan. He said that AU troops should disarm the rebels, and that the Sudanese government should be responsible for disarming the Janjaweed militia to end the fighting.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, meanwhile, left London Monday for Sudan, where he is to discuss the crisis in Darfur with President Omar al-Beshir and senior officials.