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Khartoum urges Darfur rebels to join talks

6/5/2005 8:49am

KHARTOUM, June 5 (AFP) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir said Sunday he hoped rebels would join talks in the Nigerian capital next week aimed at reaching a peace deal for conflict-ridden Darfur.
"The government is committed to take part in the Abuja talks with a high-level delegation that possesses a full mandate and we hope observers and rebels will participate with high-level delegations too for reaching a peaceful political settlement that leads to peace and stability in Darfur," Beshir said.

He said he hoped the round of talks starting on June 10 "will be a final one that paves the way for convening a comprehensive conference for the people of Darfur for boosting peace, stability, development and services in the region," according to official Omdurman Radio.

Darfur has been torn apart by conflict since a rebel uprising in early 2003 prompted the Khartoum government to unleash militias in a scorched-earth campaign in which tens of thousands have died and more than two million fled their homes, according to agencies.

UN chief Kofi Annan, on a visit to the region last week, warned that time was fast running out to save Darfur, which the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), has not yet publicly announced whether it would attend the Abuja talks, being sponsored by the African Union.

"We will communicate in hours to the African Union our decision for participation or non-participation in the negotiations," SLM spokesman Mahjoub Hussein was quoted as saying in the independent Akhbar Al-Youm newspaper.

US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, on a visit to Darfur on Friday, told Khartoum it must disarm the Arab militias accused of human rights abuses in the region.

Government troops fighting rebels in Darfur have been backed by militias -- known as Janjaweed -- accused of murder, torture, widespread rape and other human rights abuses against the civilian population.

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