Darfur rebel groups consult before Oct peace talks

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N'DJAMEMA, Sep 19 (Reuters) Rebel groups from Sudan's violence-torn Darfur region met in the Chadian capital today to try to thrash out a common position ahead of peace talks next month with the Sudanese government.

Chadian officials said representatives from five Darfuri insurgent groups, including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), began two days of closed-door talks in an N'Djamena hotel.

But one rebel leader, Abdel Wahid el-Nur, a founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) whose backing is seen as key to any Darfur peace deal, was absent from the meeting.

He has refused to take part in peace talks with Sudan's government scheduled to be held in Libya on October 27, saying he wants international troops to first guarantee security by disarming militias in Darfur.

The meeting in N'Djamena was being held under the auspices of the United Nations and the African Union, which had organised a meeting last month of the Darfur rebel factions in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Differences between the fractious rebel groups have bedevilled efforts to solve the conflict in Darfur, where a four-year rebellion and recurring ethnic violence have killed some 200,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes, international experts say.

Khartoum disputes these numbers.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the October peace talks jointly with the Sudanese government on September 6 and Chad's President Idriss Deby offered to host a meeting of rebel leaders so they could try to iron out their differences.

AU envoy Boubou Niang praised Chad's contribution to the Darfur peace moves.

''The African Union asks the Sudanese rebel movements to make an effort to reach an understanding before going to Tripoli on October 27,'' he told reporters in N'Djamena.

SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE The rebels are trying to agree on a common platform of demands to put to the government of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Tripoli.

This includes agreeing on just how much autonomy they should seek for the Darfur region, where their mostly non-Arab fighters took up arms in 2003, accusing the central government in Khartoum of marginalising the arid west.

Khartoum mobilised Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, to try to crush the revolt, touching off a spiral of tit-for-tat killings and looting that has spilled over into neighbouring states like Chad and the Central African Republic.

The United Nations has approved a 26,000-strong UN/AU peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Nur said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde published on Wednesday that he would not attend peace talks until a lasting Darfur ceasefire was put in place.

''I will refuse to take part in political negotiations as long as my people continue on the ground to be massacred, raped, colonised,'' he said.

Nur commands few troops but enjoys huge support among the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes to camps in Darfur and across the border in Chad during 4-1/2 years of fighting.

REUTERS RC BST0026

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