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Second Darfur rebel group joins peace talks with Sudan

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 23 Oct 2012 19:23 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Regan Doherty

DOHA, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A second Sudanese rebel group in the western region of Darfur has agreed to start Qatar-sponsored peace talks with the government in Khartoum, officials said on Tuesday, in the first attempt by mediators to revive a stalled peace process.

The move is unlikely to end a recent upsurge in violence in the region where mainly non-Arab tribes have been fighting the government for nearly a decade in a conflict the United Nations estimates has killed around 300,000 people.

But diplomats hope it will inject new life into Western and Arab efforts to mediate a peace settlement. Qatar last year brokered a peace deal between Sudan and one small rebel group, the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM).

Unlike previous failed peace deals, this agreement is open to other rebel groups to join and promises significant development aid. Qatar plans to hold a donor conference soon to kickstart development in Darfur to win over more rebels and choke off support for groups who refuse to lay down weapons.

On Tuesday, a splinter group which broke off this year from the large rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said it would start peace talks with Sudan in Doha next month.

"We are committed to the Doha forum as a place, and the Doha agreement as a basis for future negotiations, but not as a final agreement," the group's Vice President Arkou Suleiman told a news conference in the Qatari capital.

"There are still problems with (the agreement), particularly regarding refugees and internally displaced people. The security situation is also deteriorating," Suleiman said.

Sudan confirmed it would start peace talks with the group, state news agency SUNA said.

In contrast to the very small LJM, the new splinter group actually has fighters on the ground so their participation could help calm the situation, diplomats say. The new group split off from JEM, the most powerful military rebels.

"The idea of the Doha agreement is to undermine support for rebel groups one by one by starting development and providing an incentive to stop fighting," a Western diplomat following the Darfur conflict said.

"It will be a very long-term scenario but is the only option for some sort of progress. The Qataris are trying very hard to get talks restarted and win over more groups with the prospect of economic aid for Darfur."

JEM and other larger insurgent groups have so far refused to join the Doha process. The rebels accuse the government of political and economic marginalisation.

Fighting has recently picked up with gunmen killing five peacekeepers this month alone, according to UNAMID, the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and other top officials for masterminding war crimes in the region, which they deny. Khartoum puts the death toll from the Darfur conflict at 10,000.

Sudan's government also faces insurgents in two states bordering South Sudan which also complain of economic and political neglect in a country where wealth and power are concentrated in the capital Khartoum. (additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Reporting By Regan Doherty, Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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