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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Sudan truce pledge as talks loom
Omar al-Bashir meets the Pope
Omar al-Bashir is the first Sudanese leader to meet the Pope
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has said he is ready to call a ceasefire with rebel groups ahead of peace talks next month over the Darfur region.

He was speaking in Rome, where he met the Pope, who voiced his "heart-felt hope" for the success of the talks.

Several ceasefires have previously been agreed but none has ended the violence, in which some 200,000 have died.

Meanwhile, Darfur rebel leader Suleiman Jamous has left Sudan to seek medical treatment in Kenya.

He had been in a UN compound for more than 13 months, with the Sudanese authorities threatening to arrest him as soon as he left the protection of the UN.

During talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon last month, President Bashir promised to let him travel to Kenya for a stomach biopsy.

Actress Mia Farrow had offered to swap places with Mr Jamous, seen as a key figure in unifying Darfur's numerous different rebel groups.

'Horror'

Speaking after meeting Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Mr Bashir said he hoped the Libya talks would bring "a final peace".

Darfur rebels
Talks with rebels are due to start in Libya on 27 October
"We stated that we are prepared for a ceasefire for the start of negotiations in order to create a positive climate conducive to a positive end to the negotiations."

Mr Bashir also said he had asked Mr Prodi to urge European countries to put pressure on all of Darfur's rebel leaders to attend the talks, due to start in Tripoli on 27 October.

One of the most influential Darfur leaders, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, is in Paris and says he will not attend talks until the fighting stops.

The BBC's Amber Henshaw in Khartoum says Mr Bashir's words are encouraging but similar promises have been made before.

She points out that Sudan's military used planes to bomb a rebel-controlled town recently, although Sudan says it was provoked by rebel attacks.

The African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan said the reports of attacks were "astonishing" given the importance attached to the talks in Libya.

Our correspondent says that there is often an increase in violence ahead of peace talks.

This is the first time that a leader of Sudan, an Islamic republic, has met the Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI has said he will do whatever is possible to end what has called the "horror" of Darfur.

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"Very positive views were expressed concerning fresh peace negotiations for Darfur," the Vatican said following the 25-minute meeting.

"It is the Holy See's heartfelt hope that these negotiations prove successful in order to put an end to the suffering and insecurity of those peoples."

Italy has been asked to take part in the strengthened UN peacekeeping force to be set up to police Darfur shortly.

Darfur has been wracked by conflict for more than four years.

Sudan's government denies charges it backs Arab militias accused of atrocities against the region's black African population.



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