CAIRO (AP) — Sudan's new transitional government met with rebel leaders on Monday, kicking off peace talks aimed at ending the country's yearslong civil wars.
The peace initiative was built into a power-sharing deal between Sudan's army and its pro-democracy movement. That deal was reached after the overthrow of longtime autocrat President Omar al-Bashir in April. The transitional authorities have six months to make peace with the rebels, according to the agreement.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is hosting the talks in its capital, Juba, where some rebel groups signed a draft agreement last month that detailed a roadmap for the talks, trust-building measures and an extension of a cease-fire already in place.
South Sudan gained independence from the north in 2011 after decades of civil war. But in the 2000s, Sudan was most known for al-Bashir's brutal repression of an uprising in the western Darfur region.
Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebels in order to revive the country's battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.
Sudanese authorities have introduced good-will signals. They dismissed death sentences against eight rebel leaders and released more than a dozen prisoners of war. They have also delayed the formation of the parliament and the appointment of provincial governors to allow time for the rebels to come on board.
The government delegation, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan's sovereign council, arrived in Juba late Sunday. Rebel leaders arrived earlier this month.
Rebel leader Malik Agar of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Darfur rebel groups, told The Associated Press that they would start "the official opening" of the talks Monday in Juba.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan's sovereign council, also arrived in Juba to attend the opening session, along with other African leaders including Egypt's Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, according to the official SUNA news agency.
Ahmed said the start of the negotiations was a "demonstration of the will for peace and reconciliation." He encouraged "all stakeholders to reach a consensus and redirect their focus to building an inclusive and prosperous Sudan," his office said.
Ethiopia and the African Union mediated the power-sharing agreement in August which ended months of violence and faltering talks between Sudan's generals and protesters following the uprising against al-Bashir.
On Sunday, Sudan's newly appointed top judicial officials were sworn in before Burhan.
Neamat Kheir, a veteran female judge, took the oath as chief of the judiciary. She's the first woman to rise to Sudan's highest judicial post. Taj al-Ser al-Hebr, a lawyer, was sworn in as the country's public prosecutor.
Last month, thousands of Sudanese took to the streets demanding the two original appointees be sacked. Those two had been chosen by the military council that ruled Sudan after ousting al-Bashir.
Protesters insisted that independent judges be appointed before prosecuting members of the old regime, as well as those responsible for a deadly crackdown on protesters in June.
Unlike many judges, Kheir was not known to compromise her integrity to serve the interests of al-Bashir's government. However, she was widely criticized for not having supported the Sudanese uprising since its inception.