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Sun 4 Jan 2009 12:06 PM

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Qatar delays diplomatic talks on Darfur

Qatar delays African and Arab meeting on Darfur in wake of escalating Gaza crisis.

A meeting between Arab and African foreign ministers on Darfur, due to take place in Doha on Sunday, has been postponed to Jan. 12 in the wake of the latest Gaza crisis.

The Qatari government requested the delay because its prime minister Hamad bin Jassim is travelling to New York to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting, aimed at reviving the cease fire between Israel and Gaza.

The Doha meeting is part of a series of negotiations by the Arab League and African Union to open peace talks between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and rebel groups in Darfur.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa and joint African Union-United Nations mediator for Darfur Djibril Bassole were due to attend the meeting, hosted by the Qatari prime minister.

Arab League members Egypt and Saudi Arabia were also expected to take a seat at the negotiation table.

Sudan foreign ministry spokesperson, ambassador Ali Alsadig was optimistic about the Doha meeting, telling journalists: “We will make the Qatari initiative a success. The government will join the talks without any preconditions.”

However, Dafur rebel groups have been critical of Arab-led negotiations, claiming they are designed to spare Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from facing trial on charges of genocide and war crimes.

The UN estimates about 30,000 people have died in war-torn Darfur since fighting began between rebel movements and the Sudanese government in February 2003.

More than 15,000 peacekeeping soldiers are stationed in the African state, as part of a UN mandate tasked with maintaining peace in the country.

The Sudanese government has consistently denied charges of genocide and says the death toll is closer to 10,000.

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