(Reuters) Sudan's government declared an immediate unilateral ceasefire at the opening of Darfur peace talks on Saturday, but the absence of key rebels cast doubt on whether the move could produce meaningful progress.
One rebel leader who did attend the gathering in the Libyan town of Sirte voiced reservations about Khartoum's move, saying the government had failed to honour past such undertakings during 4-1/2 years of violence in the western region.
"We announce a ceasefire from this moment, and we will respect it unilaterally," Sudanese presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie told the gathering aimed at ending 4-1/2 years of violence in the western region.
Rebel leader Ahmed Ibrahim Diraige of the Sudan Federal Democratic Alliance told Reuters: "The government has already said several times since 2004 that they observed a ceasefire. They again spoke like this today. We have our doubts."
On the eve of the African Union-United Nations-mediated talks, two main rebel groups -- the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army Unity faction -- said they would not attend.
That decision emerged after another rebel chief, Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, founder of a third group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), said he would not attend the talks. JEM-SLA Unity represent the biggest military threat to the Sudanese government and Nur has the most popular support among Darfuris.
In a message from New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon called on those rebels who were absent to attend, saying they stood to lose much if they continued to stay away.
"As a demonstration of your genuine commitment to ending the suffering of the people of Darfur and to finding a lasting peace, I urge all parties to commit to an immediate cessation of hostilities here and now," he said.