CAIRO (AP) — A Sudanese rebel group said Wednesday it suspended peace talks with the transitional government, accusing the military of attacking and detaining people in a southern area under its control, an early blow to negotiations that had just begun with high expectations in South Sudan's capital, Juba.
The new transitional government and rebel leaders kicked off talks Monday aimed at ending Sudan's years-long civil wars after an August power-sharing agreement between the army and a pro-democracy movement following the overthrow of autocratic former president Omar al-Bashir.
The Sudan Liberation Movement-North said it canceled Wednesday's scheduled round of direct talks after the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces set up a checkpoint and detained 16 people in South Kordofan Province earlier this week. Three people were later released. The group says others were attacked, but didn't provide details.
The Rapid Support Forces are led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan's Sovereign Council, who also leads the government delegation to the Juba talks.
The RSF grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias mobilized by al-Bashir during the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. The militias were widely accused of crimes against humanity, and al-Bashir — now jailed in Khartoum — was indicted on charges of genocide.
Following this week's attack, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council, declared a nationwide cease-fire on Wednesday, according to the official SUNA news agency.
The Sudan Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, said it won't resume talks unless the government releases the detainees, withdraws from the area where they were seized, and declares a documented cease-fire.
Al-Hilu's movement is Sudan's largest single rebel group and is active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces, where it controls significant chunks of territory.
Ammar Amoun, head of the movement's delegation to the talks, also called for an investigation into the killing of a tribal leader in a village under the movement's control. He said RSF attacks do "not help create a negotiating atmosphere."
Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of the Sovereign Council, told a news conference in Juba that the cease-fire declaration was proof that peace with rebels is a "strategic option" for the government. He said an investigation would be opened into the attacks, and that those responsible will be brought to justice.
South Sudan mediator Tut Galuak said the Sudanese government has started direct talks with The Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebel groups, which has joined the protest movement against al-Bashir but did not fully support the power-sharing deal with the military.
Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebel groups to revive the country's battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.