Rebel groups in Darfur have agreed to hold peace talks with Sudan's government on issues adding fuel to the widespread violence that has plagued the region, U.N. and African Union officials said Monday.
Ending the conflict between the government and the ethnic African rebels who rose up against it four years ago is seen as key to ending attacks on civilians by Sudan's army and allied militias known as the janjaweed. More than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced.
Nearly all Darfur's splintered factions reached a "common platform" for talks on issues such as power- and wealth-sharing, security, land and humanitarian issues, the AU's envoy to Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, and the United Nations special envoy to Darfur, Jan Eliasson, said in a statement released after the four-day meeting.
"They also recommended that final talks should be held between 2-3 months from now," according to the joint statement from Eliasson and Salim, the chairman of the meeting.
An important rebel leader, Abdel Wahid Nur, was absent from the rebel talks, however, complicating efforts to reach any agreement. Nur, who leads a major faction of the large rebel Sudan Liberation Movement group, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that his group was boycotting the talks because it wants the killings in Darfur to stop before any negotiations begin.
Another faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government in May 2006. Its leader, Minni Minnawi, is now an adviser to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Minnawi's faction is the only rebel group that has signed a peace deal with the government since the Darfur conflict began.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force for Darfur on July 31 to try to help end the fighting.
The force -- the first joint peacekeeping mission by the African Union and the United Nations -- will replace the beleaguered 7,000-member AU force now in Darfur no later than Dec. 31.
Sudan has endorsed the resolution.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report given to the Security Council Friday that while he believed momentum for an agreement was building, "as long as hostilities continue in Darfur, efforts to reach a political settlement and achieve durable peace will not succeed."
Sudan's army and the janjaweed are accused of the bulk of the violence against civilians in Darfur, a charge the government denies.
Meanwhile, actress Mia Farrow has offered to give up her freedom so that an ailing Darfur rebel leader Suleiman Jamous can get safe passage out of a hospital, according to a letter the celebrity activist wrote to Sudan's president and posted Monday on her Web site.
Jamous, a moderate who has been a key link between Darfur rebels and aid workers, needs to leave the country for further medical care, Farrow said in the letter to al-Bashir, dated Sunday.
Jamous, suffering from abdominal problems, has been at a U.N. hospital outside Darfur. The U.N. has said he is free to leave, but he fears arrest or government reprisals if he does.
"I am therefore offering to take Mr. Jamous's place, to exchange my freedom for his in the knowledge of his importance to the civilians of Darfur and in the conviction that he will apply his energies toward creating the just and lasting peace that the Sudanese people deserve and hope for," she wrote.
Attempts to reach Sudan's Foreign Ministry spokesman early Tuesday were not immediately successful.