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Sudanese peace talks ended in deadlock

The second day of the African Union's Sudanese peace talks have ended in a deadlock after Darfur's rebel groups rejected the agenda, backtracking on an earlier promise to push forward with negotiations.

Delegates will now return to the table later today to discuss the agenda after rebel leaders objected to a reference to the "cantonment" or demobilisation of their armed forces.

"We need this issue specifically, the issue of cantonment, taken out of the agenda," Ahmed Mohammed Tugod, chief negotiator of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said.

Abdel-Wahid Mohamed Ahmed el-Nur, leader of another Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) added: "We in the movement reject this agenda completely", informs ABC News.

According to the Daily Star, less than a week before a critical UN Security Council meeting on Darfur, Amnesty International on Wednesday accused the government in Khartoum of intimidating and imprisoning scores of Sudanese villagers, journalists, translators, lawyers and human rights activists who dared to speak out about a conflict that has left more than 30,000 people dead and more than a million displaced.

In a report titled Intimidation and denial: Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Darfur, Amnesty added to the international pressure on the Sudanese government with only a few days remaining before a 30-day deadline set by the Security Council for disarming the Janjaweed militias and punishing those guilty of abuses elapses.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Sudan was trying to meet U.N. demands to end the conflict, which has killed up to 50,000 people, but needed to do more.

Straw, visiting the Abu Shouk refugee camp in northern Darfur, said the camps appeared to be safer than before but voiced concern about surrounding areas and villages, which one of his officials described as "bandit country".

"The government of Sudan have made progress, especially in humanitarian access and camp safety and security within the camps, but people are obviously still very anxious and nervous about whether they will be safe when they go back to their villages," Straw told reporters.

The World Food Programme began food airdrops to displaced people in the inaccessible area around the West Darfur state capital Geneina, saying they would go on for at least a month.

And the International Committee of the Red Cross began an airlift of hundreds of tonnes of equipment and medicines for Darfur's displaced.

Straw said he would report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "I will also be talking to African leaders as well as other Security Council members so we are all in a position by the end of next week to...make judgements about whether there is sufficient progress.

There is not enough progress -- but (the question) is whether there is sufficient progress."

The rebels are demanding a greater role for Darfuris in government, which they say is dominated by northern Sudanese of Arab extraction. The two sides signed a ceasefire in April, but each accuses the other of violating it, says Reuters.

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