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Rebels boycott Sudan peace talks

Daylong break in negotiations follows alleged militia massacre


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LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Rebel groups walked away from peace talks with the Sudanese government in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Saturday in protest of alleged attacks by the government-supported Janjaweed militia in the embattled Darfur region, a government spokesman said.

The break is described by the rebels as a "symbolic 24-hour boycott" and is in response to the rebel claim that 64 people were killed Thursday in the small southern village of Yassin by the Janjaweed. As of Saturday, no international monitoring group has confirmed the attacks.

The boycott, expected to expire Sunday, comes on the eve of a U.N. deadline for the Sudanese government to demonstrate that it is taking steps to disarm the Janjaweed.

The Janjaweed has committed numerous human rights abuses, U.N. officials say, including raping and slaughtering civilians, destroying water sources, looting, and burning buildings and crops.

Jan Egeland, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, warned the Security Council in June that a coordinated "scorched-earth" campaign of ethnic cleansing was taking place in Darfur, in western Sudan.

"These are universal crimes, so the perpetrators ought to be put on notice that they will be held accountable, whoever they are," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in June. "It is not just the field commanders, but also some of the leaders who are giving the orders, who may also be held accountable."

The conflict in Darfur began last year when black Sudanese rebels attacked government property, accusing the government of neglecting Darfur in favor of the county's Arab population.

The government responded by setting up the Janjaweed to put down the rebellion. The warring factions recently agreed to a cease-fire, but violence between them has continued.

Several international human rights groups estimate that 15,000 to 30,000 civilians have died in Darfur since fighting broke out in February 2003.

More than a million people have been displaced by the hostilities.

Freelance journalist David Clarke contributed to this report.


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