Sudan: Darfur rebels to go to Qatar for peace consultation

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By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM, Nov 17 (Reuters) - A powerful rebel group on Monday said it was ready to discuss Qatar-sponsored peace plans for the Darfur conflict, signalling a possible softening of its stance towards the initiative.

Senior commanders from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) earlier this month said they would not attend a proposed peace conference in Doha and demanded instead one-to-one talks with Sudan's government.

But a spokesman for the insurgents on Monday said the group would send a delegation to Doha for "consultation" with the Qatari leadership.

"This doesn't mean in any way that JEM has accepted the Qatari initiative," the group's London-based spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam told Reuters by text message.

"This is just to explain to them our vision on the peaceful solution and to hear more from them on the issue."

International experts say 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003, accusing it of neglect.

To quell the revolt, Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias who have been accused of carrying out mass killings, rape and plunder in the remote western region.

The Arab League asked Qatar to sponsor new peace talks weeks after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) made moves to indict Sudan's president for orchestrating war crimes in Darfur in July.

A high-level Qatari delegation met JEM's leader Khalil Ibrahim on the Sudan-Chad border earlier this month to try to persuade him to attend. Adam said the movement was considering its formal response to the Qatari appeal.

Khartoum last week launched its own peace push to tie in with the proposed Qatar negotiations, promising a ceasefire, compensation for displaced Darfuris and development projects.

Analysts have said both the Qatari initiative and the Khartoum proposals are diplomatic bids to persuade members of the U.N.'s Security Council to use its powers to postpone the ICC's moves.

Rebels accused Sudanese troops of breaking the ceasefire days after it was announced, by attacking their positions on Friday and Saturday.

Sudan's armed forces dismissed the accusations, saying government soldiers had clashed with armed bandits in north Darfur once on Friday, in a confrontation that did not amount to a breach of the ceasefire.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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