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Sudan holds first talks with rebels since 2007

UN advisor says world powers ignoring root causes of crisis

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 as a United Nations advisor said world powers were ignoring the root causes of the crisis in Darfur.

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 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

JEM representative

Peace path

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-Bashir 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 Bashir.

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 Bashir.

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.

Root causes of crisis

Meanwhile, a U.N. advisor said the world powers are not tackling the root causes of the Darfur crisis such as water scarcity and lack of development.

"The diplomats and the military strategists and the political strategists want to approach it from a strategic point of view, from a peacekeeping point of view, from a geopolitical point of view ... whatever it is but not from a water and development point of view," Jeffrey Sachs said.

Sachs, an adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body needs to refocus its efforts.

"The right approach is to start from a position that Darfur is one of the most impoverished places on the whole planet. It's one of the most ecologically and economically stressed parts on the whole planet," he told a packed hall at the American University in Cairo on Monday evening.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since the conflict flared in 2003 when mostly African rebels revolted against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, charging it with neglect.

Darfur is the site of the world's biggest humanitarian operation, with the presence of many aid agencies including the U.N. Most of the work is geared to provide basic aid to millions caught in the conflict rather than long-term development.

The right approach is to start from a position that Darfur is one of the most impoverished places on the whole planet. It's one of the most ecologically and economically stressed parts on the whole planet

Jeffrey Sachs