ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This weekend, Libya opened peace talks in hope of ending the carnage in Sudan's Darfur region. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese civilians have been killed, millions more displaced. The fighting is largely split along ethnic lines. It involves the Sudanese Army and its Arab militia allies and various black African groups.
Today, the Sudanese government quickly proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire, something it's done before. But two of Darfur's main rebel groups are boycotting the conference and that casts doubt on prospects for success.
NPR's Gwen Thompkins is at the conference in the Libyan city of Sirte, and she joins me now.
Gwen, how significant is the cease-fire declaration by Sudan?
GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, this is something that the African Union and the United Nations had really hoped for to help jumpstart the peace talks on Darfur. They wanted the government of Sudan, as well as the black rebel forces, to agree on a cease-fire.
Today, what happened is that the Sudanese government unilaterally declared that it will observe a cease-fire. Whether the black rebel groups are willing to do so is another question entirely in large part, because some of the main ones are not here.
SEABROOK: Gwen, why are these rebel groups boycotting? And who is there besides the Sudanese government?
THOMPKINS: Well, the folks who are organizing the event, the African Union and the United Nations, are saying that there are some rebel groups who just want to delay their participation in the talks. Now, there are other rebel groups who have said they're not coming. These are some of the heavy hitters among the black rebel organizations in Darfur. These are groups that are saying that they do not want to sit at the same negotiating table as smaller rebel groups who have splintered away from them over this past year.
Last year, there were about three major black rebel organizations in Darfur. This year, there are more than 20 of them.
THOMPKINS: The big boys are apparently resentful of the newfound power of the smaller rebel factions that have found a seat at the table.
SEABROOK: So Gwen, who is there besides the Sudanese government?
THOMPKINS: Many of them are representing the splinter organizations that I just mentioned. But the envoys have cast an even wider net of invitations. They've invited so many representatives from Darfur's civil society. This would be women's groups as well as people who are living in the camps right now because they don't want to rest a possible peace agreement simply on the shoulders of the belligerent factions.
SEABROOK: Libya and its leader, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi, are hosting these peace talks. Gwen, this is quite a turnabout for Colonel Gaddafi, who for years was labeled an international outlaw, supporter of terrorism.
THOMPKINS: Yes. This is a moment of pride for Gaddafi as well as for Libya. Over the past several years, Gaddafi has spent a lot of time and a lot of money reinventing himself as a peacemaker on the continent. And he came to the talks today in his typically unpredictable fashion. He seemed to question the validity of the conference, given the fact that black rebel organizations were not attending.
SEABROOK: NPR's Gwen Thompkins in Sirte, Libya. Thanks very much.
THOMPKINS: Thank you.
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