February 10, 2009 AFP report from Doha, Qatar:
Sudan in first peace talks with Darfur rebels since 2007
A Sudanese government delegation met Darfur rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement in the Qatari capital on Tuesday for their first peace contacts since 2007.
The most heavily armed of the Darfur rebel groups, the JEM boycotted a largely abortive peace deal signed by one other faction in 2006 and in May last year launched an unprecedented assault on the Sudanese capital.
JEM representative Jibril Ibrahim said the new contacts could only pave the way for substantive peace negotiations if the government was prepared to accept the winding up of allied Arab militias in Darfur and allow high-level rebel representation in the central government.
"The appropriate order for our negotiations must be the following -- start by adopting confidence-building measures and making a declaration of good intentions and then address the key bones of contention," Ibrahim said.
He said confidence-building measures should include the release of JEM prisoners and the expansion of aid deliveries to rebel-held areas.
He said the rebel group expected to "retain its fighters during a transition period ahead of a final peace deal which would provide for their integration in the regular army."
The JEM also wanted to secure "a reduction in government troop numbers, the dismantlement of the militias and high-level participation in the central government in Khartoum."
The head of the government delegation, presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie, renewed "Sudan's determination to continue down the path of peace."
Mediators have stressed that the Doha talks are preliminary and intended to pave the way for a broader peace conference on Darfur.
They have drawn up a working draft to act as the basis of negotiations but Nafie said the government would be seeking "modifications".
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Khalifa told the opening session that he hoped that "other Darfur rebel groups would join the negotiations" that the Doha talks are designed to prepare.
In a boost to the talks, the JEM announced that its leader Khalil Ibrahim -- Jibril's brother -- would be joining the talks later on Tuesday and that the Qatari hosts had sent a plane to his rear-base in Chad to collect him.
Darfur rebels have been critical of Arab-led peace efforts in the past, saying they were designed to save Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir from international court proceedings for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in the western region.
One rebel group -- the Sudan Liberation Movement faction of Paris-based exile Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur -- has refused all talks with Khartoum while the International Criminal Court decides whether to accept a recommendation by prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to issue an arrest warrant for Beshir.
Jibril Ibrahim stressed that the JEM's participation in the Doha talks did not mean that the rebel group was abandoning its own calls for the ICC to continue its proceedings against Beshir.
Nafie said any move by the court to issue an unprecedented international arrest warrant against a sitting head of state would be a "negative sign" for the search for peace in Darfur.
The United Nations says about 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003, complaining of discrimination.
Sudan says 10,000 people have died, and denies charges that its soldiers and allied Janjaweed militiamen have committed war crimes and genocide in Darfur.