'Important step': Sudan's government and rebels agree on plan to end Darfur conflict
Sudan's transitional government signed an agreement with nine rebel groups on Saturday as part of a roadmap towards ending the deadly conflict in the country's Darfur region.
The deal outlines different issues the parties will need to negotiate on during the latest round of talks in Juba, South Sudan's capital.
"We believe this is an important step," said Ahmed Mohamed, the chief negotiator on Darfur matters from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), a coalition of nine rebel groups involved in talks with the Sudanese government.
"This step no doubt will help the process to achieve a lasting peace in Darfur and also it will enable the transitional process in Sudan to move smoothly without hindrances," Mohamed told AFP.
'We are committed to ending all the problems in Darfur,'
- Shamseddine Kabbashi, Sudanese government representative
Sudan's new transitional government, brought to power after former president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April following months of protests, has vowed to establish peace in conflict-hit regions, including Darfur.
Among the issues they agreed need to be tackled are the root causes of the conflict, the return of refugees and internally displaced people, power sharing and the integration of rebel forces into the national army.
The deal also states that the Sudanese government will address land issues, such as the destruction of property during the conflict.
"We failed to achieve a lasting peace for Darfur simply because the previous government was not ready to take strategic decisions to resolve the conflict in Darfur," said Mohamed, who has been involved in previous failed peace talks.
General Shamseddine Kabbashi, the top Sudanese government representative at the talks, said: "We are committed to ending all the problems in Darfur and ensuring that we restore peace and stability, not only in Darfur but across all parts of the country."
Final deal by February
The conflict between pro-government forces and ethnic minority rebels left around 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.
Human rights groups say Khartoum targeted ethnic groups accused of being pro-rebels with a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
Khartoum has been negotiating with different rebel groups in the capital of South Sudan for two weeks, in the latest round of efforts to end conflicts in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
Bashir, who is behind bars for corruption and awaiting trial on other charges, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over charges of war crimes and genocide for his role in the Darfur conflict.
Protesters have demanded Bashir be handed over to the ICC, but the military leaders who overthrew him have refused to, even after signing a power-sharing agreement with civilian forces.
The peace process began in August and mediators aim to reach a final deal by February 2020.