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Sudan's Bashir to visit Egypt for Darfur talks

Sudan to release 24 Darfur prisoners

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is due in Egypt on Sunday for talks on efforts to end the six-year conflict in Darfur the day after Khartoum announced it would release 24 detained Darfur rebels as a goodwill gesture in peacetalks with rebel groups.

Bashir is expected to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his one-day visit, which comes as the International Criminal Court (ICC) appears close to deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader.

The Sudanese Justice Minister Abdel Basit Sabderat said late Saturday the release was linked to a deal signed in Qatar this week between Khartoum and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is designed to pave the way for peace talks.

Attempting to deflect ICC case

"The president has ordered the release of 24 prisoners related to Darfur cases," Sabderat told reporters without saing which prisoners would be released or whether they would be members of Jsutice and Equality Movment (JEM).

Many analysts said Khartoum agreed to the Qatar deal as part of a diplomatic push to deflect a looming ICC war crimes case against Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

At least 50 alleged JEM members are in prison in Khartoum, sentenced to death after being found guilty of taking part in the movement's unprecedented attack on the capital in May.

"If the release takes place, then there is hope that we can all go back to Doha again for the next stage. If there is no release, there will be no Doha," JEM commander Suleiman Sandal said.

During the Doha talks, both sides agreed to make peace negotiations a priority and adopt a series of confidence-building measures including a prisoner swap. They said they would meet again to negotiate a more formal "framework agreement" before considering a ceasefire and full peace talks.

JEM released 21 government prisoners-of-war this week to hold up its end of the deal, a JEM commander said.

If the release takes place, then there is hope that we can all go back to Doha again for the next stage

Suleiman Sandal

Most effective military challenge

The rebel group has emerged as the most effective military challenge to the government of Sudan. Its fighters attacked the outskirts of the capital last May, in the first such march on the capital by Darfur rebels.

Human rights groups said hundreds of Darfurians were detained after the attack. Some 50 JEM members, including senior commanders, were also tried and sentenced to death in hastily convened trials in August. Their release would be a major concession and would require a presidential pardon.

Sudan's army said 17 JEM fighters and 11 Sudanese soldiers were killed in clashes close to the north Darfur settlement of Donki on Thursday. Sandal confirmed the Donki fighting but said the rebels had routed the army.

Agbash said JEM forces had received supplies and support from the government of neighboring Chad, repeating charges made by Sudanese government officials last month.

Relations between the oil-producing neighbors are on a knife-edge after Chad said last month that Sudan was backing a new insurgent coalition against the N'Djamena government.

International experts say the fighting has killed 200,000 and uprooted 2.7 million people. Sudan's government says 10,000 have been killed and accuses the Western media of exaggerating the conflict.