Peace negotiations for Sudan's war-torn Darfur region are on the horizon, with the government reportedly agreeing for the first time to attend talks that are internationally monitored.
An EU official told IRIN on Thursday that the government had agreed to meet the Darfur rebel leaders in Chad with representatives from the EU and others present as observers. He said the details surrounding the talks were "still under discussion".
An official at the US embassy in Khartoum told IRIN the matter was still being discussed, but that the "US will be present if talks take place". There was no comment available from the Sudanese government on Thursday.
The presence of international monitors is a basic precondition to talks for both Darfur's rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Chad, which mediated talks with the SLA until they broke down in mid-December, is deemed by both groups to be too friendly with Khartoum to be a neutral mediator.
Dr Khalil Ibrahim, the exiled chairman of the JEM, confirmed to IRIN from France that he would be prepared to attend talks if they were monitored by "neutral supervisors" in a suitable country, which could include Chad. "Under no circumstances" would he attend talks in Sudan, he said, adding that he was waiting to hear about concrete plans and was "ready at any time".
Abd al-Wahid Muhammad Ahmad al-Nur, the SLA chairman, told IRIN he would also send a delegation to internationally monitored talks in Chad.
Meanwhile, government-backed Arab militias in Darfur continue to kill, rape and displace non-Arab civilians in increasingly frequent and vicious attacks. Over 700,000 people have been displaced, while 110,000 have fled across the border to neighbouring Chad.
In a separate development, the UN said on Thursday it was "deeply concerned" at the recent detention by the SLA of two Chinese water engineers working in Southern Darfur. Abd al-Wahid denied the charge, accusing the Sudanese-backed Janjawid militias of having kidnapped the two men.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions