New Darfur talks start in Qatar amid pessimism

* Sudan's government and rebel faction start talks

* Other factions criticise the meeting

KHARTOUM, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Sudan's government began talks with one of the main Darfur rebel factions in Qatar on Tuesday, but other groups said the meeting would fail because they had not all been included.

It was the first time since 2007 that the government had sat down with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which launched an unprecedented attack on Khartoum last year and has been involved in a recent upsurge of fighting.

Officials said both sides made opening statements saying they would discuss confidence-building measures that could pave the way to full peace negotiations.

Tension has been growing in Darfur as it awaits a decision by International Criminal Court judges on whether to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes in Darfur.

International experts say 200,000 people have died and 2.7 million been driven from their homes since rebels took up arms against Khartoum in 2003, accusing it of neglecting the development of the region.

Criticism of the Qatar talks by the Darfur factions that were not involved underlined the task facing mediators trying to end a conflict involving government troops and an increasingly fractious array of rebels, militias, bandits and tribal groups.


Minni Arcua Minnawi, the only rebel to sign a failed peace deal with the government in the Nigerian city of Abuja in 2006, told reporters the Qatar talks would be "a major disaster".

"If the Abuja agreement was lacking then what is happening in Qatar is lacking even further," said Minnawi.

Suleiman Jamous, a senior member of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army's Unity faction said Khartoum and mediators had mistakenly concluded JEM was the biggest rebel group in Darfur.

The head of the insurgent United Resistance Front faction, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, said the sole involvement of JEM proved mediators behind the talks were not impartial.

The Qatar talks have already been dismissed by SLA founder Abdel Wahed Mohamed Ahmed al-Nur, who is refusing to negotiate before the end of violence in Darfur.

JEM defended its presence. "We are the only people who are engaged militarily or politically with the government in terms of opposing the regime," said spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam.

Adam said JEM had used the first session to set out confidence-building measures the government could adopt, including an exchange of prisoners, an end to government bombing and a freeze on plans to forcibly resettle displaced Darfuris.

Adam said JEM would pull out of the session if there was any sign that Khartoum was using the talks to deflect the possible International Criminal Court war crimes case against Sudan's president.

The court's judges are expected to rule within weeks on a request by the chief prosecutor for an arrest warrant against Bashir.

Sudan's state news agency Suna reported the head of the Sudan government delegation, presidential assistant Nafie Ali Nafie, told the meeting Khartoum was keen "to achieve peace, turn the page of conflict and fighting and speed up the process for construction and rehabilitation." (Editing by Tim Pearce)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: