Sudan's government departs for peace talks with rebels

CAIRO (AP) — Sudan’s transitional government departed on Tuesday for peace talks with rebel leaders in a bid to end the country’s protracted civil war.

The talks were being held in Juba, the capital of neighboring South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011 following decades of war.

After sweeping protests toppled Sudan's autocrat President Omar al-Bashir in April, a power-sharing deal between military and civilian leaders called for peace negotiations with the country’s rebels.

The agreement gave transitional authorities a six-month deadline ending in February to make peace with armed groups that have been fighting the central government for years.

The government delegation, led by deputy chief of the Sovereign Council Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, expressed cautious optimism at the airport before leaving for Juba.

“The government has a real will to remove all the problems that caused the war in Sudan,” said Sovereign Council member Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, adding, “This present opportunity has not existed before in the country’s history."

Sudan’s largest rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement - North, also declared its desire for “the two sides to achieve a genuine breakthrough.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by fighting in Sudan's multiple insurgencies, including in the restive western Darfur region, where al-Bashir brutally repressed an uprising in the early 2000s. Since then, the International Criminal Court has sought to arrest al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide.

Sudanese authorities have recently sought to restore rebels’ trust in the government through gestures of goodwill, notably releasing several prisoners of war and postponing the formation of the Sudanese parliament until a peace deal would allow rebels to gain representation.

Sudan’s transitional government is under heavy pressure to end the wars with rebels, as it seeks to rehabilitate the country’s battered economy, attract much-needed foreign aid and deliver the democracy it promises. Last week Sudan's new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, visited Washington to lobby the U.S. to drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.