- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2007

ROME — Sudan’s president yesterday met with the pope and Italy’s prime minister, and offered to declare a cease-fire with Darfur rebels to coincide with the start of U.N.-backed peace talks next month.

Past truces have been regularly violated, and at least two rebel groups dismissed the offer yesterday.

Still, after a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and President Omar Bashir, the Vatican expressed hope that the upcoming talks would end the suffering in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been uprooted in the four years since ethnic African rebels tour took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government.

Sudan’s government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the Janjaweed, a charge Khartoum denies.

Lt. Gen. Bashir told reporters after meeting Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi that he is offering a cease-fire linked to the start of negotiations Oct. 27, in Libya, which borders Darfur, to “create a positive climate.”

“We hope that the negotiations in Tripoli will be the last ones and that they will bring definitive peace,” Lt. Gen. Bashir said.

A rebel leader, Abdel Wahid Nur, of the Sudan Liberation Movement, refused to join the talks, saying negotiations should not start before a cease-fire and before the arrival of a U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force.

U.N. officials said troops could start deploying in October.

“How many cease-fires is al-Bashir going to offer?” Mr. Nur asked yesterday in a telephone call from Paris, listing nearly a dozen he said Sudan’s forces violated. “No one on Earth will make me go” to Libya, he said.

Lt. Gen. Bashir’s announcement came after his forces carried out a major attack earlier this week against another rebel faction, the Justice and Equality Movement, in northern Darfur. The group’s leader Khalil Ibrahim, who earlier said he would go to Libya, says he might not if government attacks continue.

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