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Sudan, rebels sign prisoner release deal

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  • NEW: Sudanese government, Darfur rebel group sign confidence-building deal
  • NEW: Government, Justice and Equality Movement holding further talks in two weeks
  • NEW: Analyst calls agreement "first step in the right direction"
  • Around 300,000 people estimated to have died in six-year conflict
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(CNN) -- Sudan's government and rebels from its troubled Darfur region signed a confidence-building agreement Tuesday in Qatar, a step toward ending a six-year conflict that has killed about 300,000 people, the emirate's state news agency reported.

A member of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) stands guard near the Sudan-Chad border in 2007.

A member of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) stands guard near the Sudan-Chad border in 2007.

Detailed talks between the government and the Justice and Equality Movement are scheduled to begin in two weeks after Tuesday's signing, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister, told the SUNA news agency.

Roger Middleton, an Africa specialist at the British think-tank Chatham House, said Tuesday's agreement deals mostly with prisoner releases.

But he said the two parties' decision to hold further talks "is an important move forward, which there hasn't necessarily been in the past."

"It is certainly a step in the right direction," he said. "But a lot more needs to be done if we're going to see a full cessation of fighting in Darfur."

Other rebel groups are not included in the pact, and "many, many things" could cause the talks to fail, he said.

"It is a start, but it's very fragile, and we mustn't get overexcited just yet," Middleton said.

In November, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir agreed to an immediate, unconditional cease-fire in Darfur, but JEM was not included in the talks.

Sudan's Culture Minister Amin Hassan Omar and Jibril Ibrahim, a top rebel official, signed Tuesday's agreement.

Qatar has been mediating talks between the two sides in the Darfur conflict, which erupted in 2003 after rebels began an uprising against the Khartoum government.

The government launched a brutal counter-insurgency campaign, aided by government-backed Arab militias that went from village to village in Darfur, killing, torturing and raping residents, according to the United Nations, Western governments and human rights organizations.

Al-Bashir is under pressure to end the fighting, particularly because he was charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court last year for the government's campaign of violence in Darfur.

In the past six years, an estimated 300,000 people have been killed through direct combat, disease or malnutrition, the United Nations says. An additional 2.7 million people fled their homes because of fighting among rebels, government forces and allied militias.

All About DarfurOmar al-BashirSudan

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