Foreign Minister Mustafa Usman Ismail said Khartoum was seeking political support from Arab ministers, due to meet at the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday, "which will lead to the halting of any attempts to target Sudan or issuing sanctions against it".

The Cairo-based Arab League has said the threat of sanctions will not help resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where the UN says fighting has killed 50,000, displaced one million and made two million short of food and medicine.

Khartoum has about three weeks left to show the UN Security Council it is serious about disarming the Janjawid militia or face possible sanctions.

Darfur rebels say Khartoum backs Janjawid attacks to drive non-Arab villagers off their land, although analysts say the war is over land rather than ethnicity.

"The government has demonstrated recently its willingness and its commitment to work for the resolution of this conflict. We want to encourage them, not antagonise them," Arab League spokesman Husam Zaki said, referring to the sanctions threat.

Land war

Samir Husni, director of African-Arab cooperation at the League, said the foreign ministers would discuss how to help Khartoum implement the UN resolution, which also demanded that the government should prosecute the Janjawid leaders.

But New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Arab League to put pressure on Sudan's government, not protect it.

"Allowing the Sudanese government to hide its crimes behind Arab solidarity would be an insult to more than one million Muslim victims in Darfur"

Peter Takirambudde,
Human Rights Watch

"Allowing the Sudanese government to hide its crimes behind Arab solidarity would be an insult to more than one million Muslim victims in Darfur," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the group's Africa division.

"The Arab League should stand behind the victims in Darfur and take concrete steps to ensure that civilians are protected from further crimes," he said in a statement.

A long smouldering conflict between nomadic herders and settled villagers erupted in early 2003 when two Darfur rebel groups took up arms against Khartoum.

Peace talks

The Janjawid began their campaign of killing in response, rights groups say.

Sudan's government and the two Darfur rebel groups fighting in the western Darfur region have agreed to peace talks in Abuja Nigeria on 23 August, the African Union said on Sunday.

Darfur rebels accuse Khartoum
of neglecting the region

AU spokesman Adam Thiam said the group's chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, would mediate discussions between the Sudanese government, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army in the Nigerian capital.

"The rebels and the government of Sudan have agreed to attend the talks," Thiam said from Addis Ababa, where the AU's headquarters are located.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Usman Ismail said the government would participate in the talks without conditions.

"The Khartoum government will put forward a paper to the Abuja meeting about Sudan's vision for dealing with the political crisis," he told reporters in Cairo.

Peacekeepers

There was no direct word from the rebels confirming they would attend, but Thiam said they would be there.

"The talks will be a continuation of the political dialogue started in Addis Ababa on July 15 under the auspices of the African Union," he said.

The UN says Darfur is the world's
worst humanitarian crisis

Those talks failed when the rebels set six conditions for negotiations and Khartoum immediately rejected them. The chief demands included Sudan's demilitarisation of Darfur and an inquiry into genocide charges.

The 53-member AU is proposing to send up to 2000 troops to protect its ceasefire monitors in Darfur and to serve as peacekeepers, but has yet to send a formal request to Khartoum.

On Saturday, Sudan said it would permit African troops to protect their monitors, but said only its troops would handle the peacekeeping functions.