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More Sudan Peace Talks to be Held in Nigeria - 2004-08-24

The Sudanese government and leaders of two rebel groups from the west of Sudan have made a small step forward to end fighting in Darfur. They agreed Tuesday on an agenda for future talks.

The African Union, which is sponsoring the talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, is hoping they will produce an agreement to settle the 18-month war in Darfur that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and created a humanitarian disaster.

The main issues, including the deployment of AU peacekeepers, the disarmament of the rebels and disbanding of the Arab militia, Janjaweed, who are being blamed for much of the violence, have not yet been discussed.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, visiting the Darfur region, says a quick solution is critical for the people who have suffered because of the fighting.

"People here have suffered grievously," he said. "People have lost their lives, they lost their loved ones. People have been injured. Because children have been uprooted, many are suffering from malnutrition. So the crucial challenge now is not the description [of Darfur's situation], but what we do about the problem and how we turn it around. And that's the view of the United Nations as well."

The United Nations has threatened to impose unspecified sanctions against the Sudanese government if it fails to stop the violence by the end of August.

African analyst Alex Vines says that the threat of sanctions is a concern to the government in Khartoum.

"I think the Sudanese government at the moment seems more concerned about thwarting off any further attempts to impose U.N. sanctions on Sudan and that's I think where the thrust at the moment is," he said. "So there have been some minor concessions and we'll see in the next few days whether there will be anything more."

He also says a compromise is necessary between the Sudanese government and the rebels in order to end the humanitarian crisis.

The rebels are demanding greater autonomy for the Darfur region and a larger share of Sudan's wealth.