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Darfur peace talks between Sudan and rebel group kick off in Doha

January 20, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The Sudanese government and a splinter faction of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have started direct peace talks in Doha, with both parties expressing a willingness to end hostilities in the troubled region of Darfur.

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Mohamed Bashr Ahmed, leader of JEM-DC (ST/file photo)

A group of rebel commanders broke away in September 2012 and signed a goodwill and a cessation of hostilities agreement with the Khartoum government the following month.

The talks had initially been scheduled for December 2012, but were delayed to allow the breakaway group to organise themselves and elect new leadership. The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) also organised various workshops to prepare the rebel negotiating team ahead of the talks in Qatar.

Sudanese state minister Amin Hassan Omer, who is tasked with implementing the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), told reporters his government is keen to reach a peace agreement with the rebel group in good faith. He further added the two parties are sincere in their desire to end the conflict.

Amin, who negotiated the framework of the agreement with the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), underlined that the DDPD is the document of all the people of Darfur and is also supported by the international community, African Union and Arab League.

JEM, which inaugurated the Doha process in February 2009, refused to sign the DDPD, demanding the text be opened for further talks. However, the government and LJM signed the document on 19 July 2011, along with further agreements on power sharing and security arrangements.

JEM-MC deputy leader and head of the rebel negotiating team Arko Suleiman reaffirmed that the group are peace lovers and keen to end the 10-year conflict in Darfur. He added that they would discuss the seven chapters contained in the peace document with Khartoum to ensure their full implementation.

The issue of displaced civilians and refugees, in addition to other matters, would also be discussed, he said.

Negotiations are set to focus on peace in Darfur and Arko stressed that reaching a just and comprehensive peace agreement in the region would further lead to peace in the whole of Sudan.

In an interview with Sudan Tribune last year, the leader of the rebel faction, Mohamed Bashr Ahmed, blamed Khartoum for not yet implementing a series of measures aimed at preparing for the return of internally displaced civilians (IDPs) and refugees to their villages.

He said they want tangible measures and strong commitments to ensure the IDPs return, payment of compensations and the improvement of security situation in term of protection of civilians.

Sudan announced last week the payment of over $130 million to implement recovery and reconstructions projects in Darfur. Under the terms of the DDPD Khartoum had committed to pay $2 billion, but said the severe economic crisis currently gripping the country had prevented it from honoring its financial commitments.

Qatar state minister for cabinet affairs Ahmed bin Abdullah Mahmoud, who facilitated the DDPD and worked with former joint chief mediator Djibril Bassolé, reaffirmed the seriousness of the two parties to end the long-running conflict.

He said the two parties will decide on the issues to negotiate, pointing out that the mediation team had proposed forming different panels to discuss the various topics included in the DDPD.

He also added that “other groups” had approached them and expressed their desire to join the Doha document but did not elaborate on the identity of these groups.

In 2011, JEM and the two main factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) in Darfur led by Abdel Wahild Al Nur and Minni Minnawi formed an alliance with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and vowed to overthrow the regime.