October 16, 2019 / 6:07 PM / a month ago

Key rebel group halts direct peace talks with Khartoum

Juba (Reuters) - Peace talks between key rebel groups and the Sudanese government hit an obstacle on Wednesday when one major group said it will not sit down for direct talks with Khartoum until its demands are met.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, a rebel group in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, accused Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), its most powerful paramilitary group, of occupying new areas and attacking and arresting traders.

In a press conference in Juba, SPLM-N chief negotiator Ammar Amoun said that his group’s preconditions to returning to the negotiating table include the release of all prisoners, the withdrawal of government forces from areas they’ve taken and a halt to all hostilities.

“If the government clears all these demands, we are ready to come back to the table with the commitment we declared during the Juba Declaration”, Amoun said.

The Sudanese government denied the accusations and said it was willing to investigate.

“The government is shocked,” said spokesman Mohammed Hassan Eltaishi. “The government is ready to investigate those behind the attack (on traders) and will bring them to justice..this incident should not be a big obstacle to the ongoing peace negotiations,” he added.

Sudan’s ruling council and rebel leaders resumed peace talks on Monday to end the country’s multiple conflicts, a key condition for the country’s removal from the United States’ sponsors of terrorism list.

Mediators said in a statement late on Wednesday that the talks were postponed to Thursday “in order to resolve this misunderstanding.”

The council, a transitional government, has made peace talks with rebels fighting Khartoum one of its main priorities.

Being designated a state sponsor of terrorism cuts Sudan off from desperately needed debt relief and financing from lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Removal from the list potentially opens the door for foreign investment.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Denis Dumo in Juba, Writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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