Prodi, who has been criticised by Italian politicians and other European politicians for hosting Bashir, said he had used the meeting to emphasis the international community's "strong concerns" about the situation.

Darfur 'slaughter'

A group of European parliamentarians, led by Britain's Glenys Kinnock, said it was surprised and concerned that Prodi would welcome a man "primarily responsible for the slaughter in Darfur".

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Foreign experts estimate that the conflict in Darfur has killed about 200,000 people and forced another 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum disputes the figures.

Last month in Tanzania, the myriad of Darfur rebel factions agreed a common platform for new talks with the government before Khartoum agreed to attend peace talks in Tripoli.

Bashir said he had asked Prodi to pressure "certain European countries harbouring some of these rebel groups" to persuade them to come to the talks.

The Sudanese leader also said that he wanted an end to economic sanctions against his government and the cancellation of its foreign debt.

Prodi called on Bashir's government to make "realistic contributions" to the negotiations and pledged financial help, transport and logistical assistance, as well as training for the UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in Darfur.

Papal visit

After talks with Prodi, Bashir went to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo near Rome to meet Benedict XVI.
  
"Very positive views were expressed concerning fresh peace negotiations for Darfur," the Vatican said.

"Very positive views were expressed concerning fresh peace negotiations for Darfur"

Vatican statement
"It is the Holy See's heartfelt hope that these negotiations prove successful in order to put an end to the suffering and insecurity of those peoples."

However, the talks could be hampered by the refusal of Abdulwahid Elnur, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, to hold negotiations before a ceasefire is in place and the arrival of a UN-African Union peacekeeping force.

On Friday, he rejected the Libya meeting and expressed scepticism about Bashir's offer of a truce.

"How many ceasefires is al-Bashir going to offer?" Elnur said to the Associated Press news agency, listing nearly a dozen he claims Khartoum has violated.

Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the northern Darfur Justice and Equality Movement, has also said he might not travel to Libya after government forces launched a major attack on his fighters earlier this week.

Abdullahi Eltom, JEM's chief political negotiator, dismissed the ceasefire, saying the president's "word is worth nothing".

Source: Agencies