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Sudan Peace Talks: Rebels and Government Don't Speak for All Darfur

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The news that Darfur rebel leaders are to sign a deal with the Sudanese government, with a view to a final peace agreement by the middle of next month, is a step in the right direction. For too long the Justice and Equality Movement has been one of the key drivers of violence in Sudan's troubled western region. And for too long government Antonovs have bombed villages as they searched for rebel targets.

Anything that brings closer the prospect of more than two million people returning home from miserable aid camps must be a good thing. Seven years have passed since Darfur exploded in war and there have been precious few reasons for cheer.

But there is still a long way to go before Darfur can return to any semblance of peace. Let's not get carried away.

When the two sides meet in Doha on Tuesday to set up the terms of the next round of talks it's worth remembering that many ordinary Darfuris will not be represented.

Jem has fought its way to the table claiming to be the most powerful rebel army on the ground. But that's a bit like saying you have the biggest house of cards at a deck balancing convention. Already there are signs of splits and disagreements. And what about all the rebel groupings - at least a dozen more - who show no sign of being ready to agree peace?

And who does the government speak for? Certainly not the Janjaweed, Khartoum's proxy warriors in Darfur, many of whom have long since fallen out with their distant paymasters. Nor does it speak for the other other Arab tribes who stayed out of the conflict altogether.

Once again, there is a danger that a simplified analysis pushed by the likes of the Save Darfur Coalition - of a black and white war between good and evil - could distract from the real business of finding peace. This isn't just about rebels and government, there are many, many more conflicts rolled into one.

Pressure must be kept on all the parties to make sure talks are inclusive, bringing together grassroots leaders from across the spectrum of interests, tribes and armed groups to build a better Darfur. Talks between rebel leaders and government officials are a welcome step but can go only so far.

ROB CRILLY'S BOOK SAVING DARFUR IS PUBLISHED BY REPORTAGE PRESS