Home | News    Tuesday 23 March 2004

W.Sudan rebels, government agree to peace talks

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By Nima Elbagir

KHARTOUM, March 23 (Reuters) - Sudan’s government will hold internationally sponsored peace talks in Chad next week with two rebel groups fighting Khartoum in the west of the country, a government source said on Tuesday.

The source said the exact day of the talks had yet to be finalised.

"The rebels have agreed to enter into talks with us," the source said, adding that both rebel groups would participate.

"The talks are a joint U.S. and European Union initiative and will be held in (Chadian capital) Ndjamena next week and President (Idriss) Deby will mediate," the source told Reuters.

The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched a revolt in February, 2003 accusing the government of neglecting the western Darfur region.

A U.N. official said last week pro-government Arab militias in Darfur were carrying out killings of African villagers reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide.

SLM/A spokesman Mohammed Mursal told Reuters the group would take part in the talks as its conditions had been met.

"We are holding preliminary meetings at the moment in preparation for going into talks... We always said we were ready to negotiate at any time in the presence of international observers," he said.

JEM could not immediately be reached to confirm whether it would attend the talks but spokesman Suleiman Adam earlier said the group would take part in talks if international observers were present.

The SLM/A signed a ceasefire with the government in September but peace talks broke down in December.

CONTINUED FIGHTING

Despite the contacts between the government and the rebels, fighting continued on Tuesday.

A Sudanese government spokesman in southern Darfur told Reuters by telephone that SLM/A rebels had made a brief incursion into the town of Buram on Monday, killing a police commissioner, a tribal leader and two civilians.

"The rebels rushed into the town in their cars. The attack was disorganised and the losses we suffered were inflicted in a haphazard manner. They were in and out almost immediately," said regional spokesman Gadallah Goudatallah. Buram, about 900 km (560 miles) southwest of Khartoum, was the scene of another rebel attack a week ago and the rebels said on Tuesday that they held the town.

"We are in control of the town... The government fielded a military convoy to repulse our attack and we forced their convoy into retreat towards Nyala. At present half of our forces are occupying Buram and the other half are surrounding Nyala," said Mursal. Nyala is the provincial capital.

Mursal said the rebels shot down a helicopter and killed 450 out of 800 to 900 government troops in the area. The rebels have repeatedly given very high figures for the casualties among their opponents. Fourteen rebels were killed, he added.

The Sudanese government has been negotiating in Kenya with separate rebels in southern Sudan to end to more than two decades of civil war between north and south.

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