The Darfur political process strode forward on Monday as rebel factions in the conflict-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur agreed to adopt a common negotiating position and resume peace talks with the government within three months.
The Darfur rebel factions announced their consensus at the end of an African Union (AU)-United Nations (UN) meeting on Darfur in Arusha, Tanzania, which had been scheduled to conclude on Sunday but was prolonged for another day for further consultations.
In spite of repeated calls by the international society as well as the Sudanese government, a new round of the Darfur peace talks has not been held since Khartoum signed Darfur Peace Agreement with only one of the main rebel factions in May 2006.
In a statement issued by the UN Mission in Khartoum, AU and UN's special envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson described the outcome of the meeting "as an important development in the preparations for the negotiations."
The result of the Arusha meeting was also immediately welcomed by the Sudanese government.
"The consensus made by the armed movements which had refused the Darfur Peace Agreement makes the next peace negotiations have a meaning," Sudanese Minister of Justice Mohammed Ali al-Mardi told the SUNA new agency.
"Agreements and differences are conceivable, but it is important for all the parties to sit down on the same table and talk to each other on the peace cause in Darfur," said al-Mardi.
He stressed that "the negotiations and the peace cause should not be attached with the presence or absence of an individual or a movement because it is a national cause."
A faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdul Wahid Mohammmd Nour boycotted the Arusha meeting, claiming that the meeting was maneuvered by Khartoum.
The Sudanese government has accused Paris of failing to exert enough pressure on Nour, who is currently living in France, to persuade him to attend the meeting.
The Arusha meeting began on Friday, three days after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing up to 26,000 peacekeepers for Darfur in an effort to protect civilians and quell violence in the region.
Khartoum announced on Wednesday its acceptance of the resolution, vowing to cooperate with the UN and AU for its implementation.
UN envoy Eliasson is expected to arrive in Khartoum in the coming hours to inform the Sudanese government of the details of the Arusha meeting and hold more consultations on the place and time of the next Darfur negotiations.
His AU counterpart, Salim, will also pay a visit to Sudan later this week for the same purpose.
The Darfur rebel factions agreed that the next peace talks would be held "between 2-3 months from now in countries of the regional initiatives or in any other country that the mediation considers suitable in terms of environment and facilities, to ensure the success of the negotiations."
The Sudanese government had announced that it was ready to hold the negotiations "at any time and in any place."