Darfur peace talks begin in Doha

Sudan holds direct talks with a rebel group for the first time two years.

    Sheikh Hamad, Qatar's PM, said he hoped all other factions in Darfur would join the talks in Doha [AFP]

    Jibril Ibrahim, a Jem representative, said the new contacts could only pave the way for substantive peace negotiations if the government was prepared to accept the winding up of allied Arab fighters in Darfur and allow high-level rebel representation in the central government.

    "The appropriate order for our negotiations must be the following - start by adopting confidence-building measures and making a declaration of good intentions and then address the key bones of contention," he said.

    No change in stand

    Ibrahim said that Jem's participation in the Doha talks did not mean that the group was abandoning its calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president.

    Darfur rebels have been critical of Arab-led peace efforts in the past, saying they were designed to save al-Bashir from ICC proceedings for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

    Representatives for the Arab League and the UN also participated in Tuesday's meeting in Doha.

    The UN says about 300,000 people have been killed since the Darfur rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government in 2003, complaining of discrimination.

    Sudan says 10,000 people have died, and denies charges that its soldiers and allied Janjawid fighters have committed war crimes and genocide.

    Rebel demands

    Ibrahim said confidence-building measures should include the release of Jem prisoners and the expansion of aid deliveries to rebel-held areas.

    Jem expected to "retain its fighters during a transition period ahead of a final peace deal which would provide for their integration in the regular army", he said.

    It also wanted to secure "a reduction in government troop numbers, the dismantlement of the militias and high-level participation in the central government in Khartoum."

    On the other side, Nafie Ali Nafie, a Sudanese presidential aide and head of the government delegation, renewed "Sudan's determination to continue down the path of peace" and said solving the differences between the government and the armed factions in Darfur is doable.

    Broader conference

    The talks in Doha are intended to prepare for a broader peace conference on Darfur.

    Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, told the opening session that he hoped that "other Darfur rebel groups would join the negotiations".

    Minni Arcua Minnawi, the only rebel to sign a failed peace deal with the government in the Nigerian city of Abuja in 2006, said the Qatar talks would be "a major disaster".

    "If the Abuja agreement was lacking then what is happening in Qatar is lacking even further," he said.

    Suleiman Jamous, a senior member of the Sudan Liberation Army's Unity faction, said Khartoum and the mediators had mistakenly concluded Jem is the biggest rebel group in Darfur.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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