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Key Darfur rebel forces get ready for peace talks

Associated Press

KHARTOUM, Sudan – The two main rebel movements in Sudan’s Darfur region have declared a cease-fire days before they are to resume long-delayed peace talks in Nigeria, the African Union said Wednesday.

But the two groups said they had little hope talks could succeed without more peacekeepers being sent to protect civilians in western Sudan.

The cease-fire comes after rising tension between the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement exploded into a clash over territory in recent days. The African Union and United Nations separately condemned the two rebel groups for breaking a truce.

In the capital Khartoum, visiting African Union commissioner Alpha Oumar Konare said Darfur was calm following an AU appeal on the eve of the talks.

“Our call (for a cease-fire) has been heeded, and all the concerned parties have told us that all clashes have been halted,” he said.

The rebel groups are due to meet with Sudan’s government on Friday for a third round of African Union-brokered talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The conflict in Darfur began when mainly ethnic African rebels launched a February 2003 uprising. Sudan’s Arab-dominated government and pro-government Arab tribal fighters known as the Janjaweed are accused of launching coordinated attacks on ethnic African farmers in retaliation. Sudan denies targeting civilians or allying with the Janjaweed militia.

Sudan’s government is also accused of intimidating aid workers.

Peace accords so far have failed to end violence in Darfur, where more than 180,000 have died since an armed rebellion began in February 2003.

The 53-member African Union plans to boost its 2,270 Darfur peacekeeping force with another 5,000 troops have been bogged down by logistical problems and a lack of support in the region, which is the size of France.

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