"The government is ready for participation in the next round of talks in a view to reaching a peaceful settlement to the issue of Darfur," Majdhub al-Khalifa told the official SUNA news agency on Saturday.

He was speaking after receiving an AU invitation to attend the talks.

Al-Khalifa further called on the African Union to pressure the two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) into ensuring the success of the negotiations.

The last round of peace talks between the parties broke off in December amid rebel charges that the government was planning a massive offensive in the violence-ridden region and constant ceasefire violations.

'Committed to ceasefire'

Al-Khalifa said his government was committed to the ceasefire signed last April in Chad, saying it had also "withdrawn its air weapons from Darfur as a gesture of goodwill and for the safety of the people".

"The government is ready for participation in the next round of talks in a view to reaching a peaceful settlement to the issue of Darfur"

Majdhub al-Khalifa,
Sudanese chief negotiator

The SLM had stated it would not return to the negotiating table unless a string of conditions were met, including providing protection for the people of Darfur and that the United Nations supervise the talks.

But al-Khalifa reiterated the government's rejection of the involvement of any party other than the African Union, insisting there was an improvement in the security, humanitarian and political situation in Darfur.

The United Nations, however, said on Friday that the situation in the war-torn region was deteriorating and warned that millions of people were on the brink of starvation unless the world acted soon.

The Abuja talks in Nigeria are aimed at resolving the conflict which is estimated to have killed tens of thousands and driven more than a million from their homes since fighting broke out in February 2003.