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Talks set on ending conflict in Darfur

Key rebel groups reject proposal

KHARTOUM, Sudan - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Sudanese president announced plans yesterday for a conference next month on ending the conflict in Darfur, but the main rebel factions split over taking part in Ban's peace effort.

A joint communique after the leaders' meeting said the United Nations and the African Union, which have led efforts to get the splintered rebel movements into peace talks with Sudan's government, would issue the invitations to talks set to begin Oct. 27 in Libya.

One rebel faction responded positively to news of the peace conference, but the leader of the largest movement rejected the proposal.

Before that development, Ban emerged from his meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with an upbeat tone.

"We have taken a big step toward our shared goal of bringing peace to Darfur and looking forward to the long-term development of Sudan," Ban said at a news conference. "We are at a new beginning. Let us seize this moment together."

He stressed the importance of resolving the nearly five-year conflict between rebels from ethnic African farming villages and the Arab-dominated government.

The war has killed more than 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million from their homes in Sudan's vast western region.

All parties should "cease all hostilities immediately" to "create a secure environment in Darfur conducive to the negotiations," Ban said after his second round of talks with Bashir.

Khalil Ibrahim, head of the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group, said he would attend the talks. "We are ready for new peace negotiations. We have set our agenda," he told the Associated Press by telephone from Darfur.

But Ibrahim added that his troops, who have spearheaded a surge of attacks on government forces, would not cease hostilities during the talks.

"We don't want to repeat the mistakes of Abuja," he said, referring to negotiations last year in Nigeria's capital, during which most rebel leaders said they agreed to a truce without obtaining security commitments from the Sudanese government.

The Abuja talks led to the Darfur Peace Agreement, which was signed in May 2006 by only one rebel faction.

The Justice and Equality Movement and other groups rejected the deal, calling for the United Nations to mediate a new accord.

The UN and African Union held a meeting in Tanzania in early August seeking to get Darfur rebel groups to agree on an agenda for new negotiations and many participated.

But there was a key holdout - Abdel Wahid Nur, the leader of a major faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement, who also rejected the new talks.

"We want a cessation of hostilities and UN troops on the ground to stop the killing of our people before negotiations open," Nur told AP by phone from his headquarters in Paris.

"We are in complete disagreement with these new negotiations. . . . It is a legalization of the status quo," Nur said.

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