"We make a solemn commitment to resume as soon as possible the Abuja negotiations under the auspices of the African Union without preconditions," the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said in a statement on Friday.

No date has been set for the talks.

The SLA and JEM made their announcement after secret talks with the African Union at Rome's Community of Sant'Egidio, which has negotiated a number of African peace treaties.

The two rebel groups took up arms in early 2003 accusing the Sudanese government of neglect and discrimination against non-Arabs in Sudan's vast western region.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million driven from their homes into teeming refugee camps inside Sudan and across the border in Chad.

Shaky ceasefire

A ceasefire signed more than a year ago has been shaky, and peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, subsequently stalled.

The SLM and JEM said in March they would not return to the negotiating table until war crimes suspects in Darfur were sent to an international court for trial.

This has not yet happened, but the two groups made no reference to the issue in Friday's statement.

Instead, they called for the African peace-keeping mission in Darfur to be strengthened and civilians to be protected.

"We urge the International Community to exert all efforts to maintain a favourable environment for the resumption and continuation of negotiations," they said.

"We have decided to re-convene in Sant'Egidio whenever needed... in order to strengthen the peace process."

The Community of Sant'Egidio is a Roman Catholic movement of lay people who strive to negotiate peace around the world.

Nicknamed "the UN of Trastevere" for the Rome neighbourhood where it is based, Sant'Egidio scored its greatest diplomatic success in 1992 when it helped build a deal to end 16 years of civil war that killed 1 million people in Mozambique.