UN, AU mediator says cease-fire in Darfur close

Darfur's most powerful rebel group and the Sudanese government are close to declaring a cease-fire, the UN and African Union mediator said Wednesday. Word from the two warring sides, however, was less optimistic. A spokesman for the rebels accused government forces of advancing toward the group's positions in Darfur even as the talks were under way, and a Sudanese government minister played down the meeting as "preparatory, no more, no less." A cease-fire between the government and the rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement would be a significant step in easing fighting in Darfur, where rebel groups complaining of discrimination and neglect took up arms against the government in 2003. The six years of fighting has left 300,000 people dead and 2.7 million displaced, according to UN figures. The chief mediator at the talks taking place in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar said a cease-fire could be announced as early as Wednesday.