Sudan's transitional government and the main rebel group kicked off a new round of peace talks Wednesday, officials said, the latest effort to end a decades-long conflict in the East African country.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir is hosting the talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Popular Liberation Movement North, led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and al-Hilu were attending a ceremonial meeting. Afterward, delegations from the government and the rebel group were to continue their closed deliberations in Juba, South Sudan's capital, according to the prime minister's office.
The talks come less than two months after the government and the al-Hilu movement signed a declaration of principles detailing a roadmap for the talks.
Al-Hilu's movement is Sudan's single largest rebel group and is active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces, where it controls significant chunks of territory.
Sudan's transitional government has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups over the past two years. It's looking to stabilize the country and help its fragile path to democracy survive following the military's overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
In 2020, Sudan's transitional authorities and another rebel alliance signed a peace deal.
Al-Hilu's group participated in negotiations leading up to that agreement but did not sign the final deal. It called for a secular state with no role for religion in lawmaking, the disbanding of all of al-Bashir's militias and the re-vamping of the country's military. Al-Hilu's group says if its demands aren't met, it will call for self-determination in areas it controls.
Another major rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement-Army, led by Abdel-Wahid Nour, rejects the transitional government and has not taken part in talks.
Sudanese rebels for years fought al-Bashir's loyalists in Darfur but also in the southern provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The fighting has often fallen along religious and ethnic lines.