Talks on achieving a ceasefire in Sudan?s contentious Darfur region get underway today in Doha, Qatar between representatives of Sudan?s government and the main Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement(JEM).The two sides have clashed in recent weeks over the south Darfur town of Muhajiriya, which was captured by government troops last week following a rebel pullout.

The talks occur as judges of the International Criminal Court consider whether or not to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan?s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes.The associate director of policy for the advocacy group Africa Action, Michael Stulman, says that today?s talks should be seen as an opening for civil society groups and other marginalized groups in Sudan, including parties hoping to strengthen a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for southern Sudan, to press Khartoum for extensive negotiations for a nationwide peace agreement.

?Darfur does not exist in and of itself.If the CPA were to fall apart, then the repercussions for Darfur and the rest of the region would be widespread.So it?s an important point to remember that all the participants in the nation and in the region, whether they be political actors or civil society, need to come together and have all their voices be heard so that everyone?s concerns can be taken into consideration,? he said.

Only Djibril Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement will represent the rebel side in today?s talks, which will be facilitated by joint UN-African Union chief Darfur mediator, Djibril Bassolé.  Michael Stulman says the Khartoum government is not yet ready to open up the discussions on a broader scale.

?I think there has always been a hesitancy between the government of Sudan to really fully engage all factions of this conflict in Darfur.So I think it will take pressure from civil society for those talks to be fully comprehensive and inclusive,? he noted.

Stulman says the prospect of Sudan?s president facing charges by the ICC may ?That certainly put pressure on the government of Sudan.We aren?t sure when the ICC indictments will come down.It is likely that the indictments will come down sooner than elections will be scheduled, so in that time frame, it?s important that civil society have their voices be heard so that there can be some collective movement to protect people who are facing some of the human rights abuses that are coming down from the government,? he said. 

 The advocacy policy adviser points out that since November, there have been at least three arrests of human rights activists in Sudan, with allegations of torture.In addition, the mandate for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for southern Sudan is expected to face renewal in two years? time.  Stulman says those factors make it paramount for groups in the country to press the government for comprehensive talks.  He calls today?s talks in Qatar a ?positive way forward for there to be an open discussion on these issues so that some of the challenges in Sudan are confronted by civil society, by government, and by the international community.?