Darfur peace talks in Doha

Representatives of the Sudanese Government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), meeting for the first time in two years, have begun peace talks in Doha today, under the auspices of the Joint African Union-United Nations Chief Mediator tasked with resolving the conflict in Darfur.

Djibril Yipènè Bassolé welcomed the parties to the Qatari capital for the preliminary discussions and congratulated them on this important step forward, according to the UN, which noted that this is the first time the two sides have met directly since the 2007 talks held in Abuja, Nigeria.

The UN News Centre says Bassolé has underlined the importance of developing an inclusive process involving all stakeholders moving forward, and expressed his hope for a cessation of hostilities.

The talks are taking place amid the latest flare-up between Government forces and the JEM in the South Darfur town of Muhajeria, which has led to the widespread displacement of civilians.

Figures have yet to be verified because of limited access, but significant numbers of people have arrived at villages and displaced persons camps in North and South Darfur since the clashes began on 15 January.

Since his appointment in June 2008, Bassolé has consulted with all parties in a bid to revive efforts to resolve the conflict that has raged between rebels, Government forces and allied militiamen known as the Janjaweed over the past five years.

Around 300 000 people are estimated to have been killed, either through direct combat or a result of disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, while 2.7 million others have had to flee their homes due to the conflict.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly called for the parties in Darfur to lay down their weapons and begin negotiations, stressing that peace in Darfur has an impact on both the successful implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending the north-south civil war in Sudan and wider regional stability.