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Sudan ambassador says govt. ready for talks with rebels

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MOSCOW, August 9 (RIA Novosti) - The government of Sudan is ready for dialogue with all groups involved in a four-year inter-ethnic conflict in Darfur, the African state's ambassador to Russia said Thursday.

The UN estimates violence and disease have killed at least 200,000 and forced 2 million from their homes since 2003, when rebel groups began fighting with the pro-government Jangaweed militia. The rebel groups, mainly made up of black African farmers, accuse the government in Khartoum of discrimination in favor of the Arab population and want a fairer slice in oil revenues.

"The government has consistently pursued the policy of a peaceful resolution of all issues and constant consultation with leaders of different tribes, movements, and groups," Shol Deng Alak said.

The statement comes days after most of Darfur's rebel groups said they had coordinated a common position and wanted to hold final talks with the central government over the next few months. Khartoum signed a peace agreement with one of three rebel factions in 2006.

In June, Khartoum agreed, after almost a year of rejection, to a peacekeeping operation in Darfur, to be run jointly by the UN and the African Union (AU), which will provide a total of 23,000 troops. The 53-member AU currently has a 7,000-strong force in the region, but has so far been unable to stop fighting.

In March 2007, the UN mission accused Sudan's government of orchestrating and taking part in "gross violations" in Darfur, and called for urgent international action to protect civilians.

The ambassador blamed the U.S. for fueling the conflict in Sudan to get access to its oil reserves.

"The United States has been trying ... to make up for losses inflicted by ongoing instability in the Middle East and is turning its eyes to African countries, our region in particular," Alak said.

Washington announced new sanctions against Khartoum in late May, accusing it of genocide, and is pushing for additional UN sanctions against the Sudanese government led by President Omar al-Beshir.

Most permanent UN Security Council members backed the U.S. move, but China, which buys 80% of Sudan's oil exports, and Russia, which develops oil fields in the country, have repeatedly opposed further pressure on the Sudanese government, saying it would only aggravate the situation.

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