Talks between Sudan's government and a Darfur rebel group have been adjourned without agreement, both sides said today, blaming each other for the impasse.
The move will be seen as a setback to the United States and mediators from the United Nations and African Union who have been stepping up pressure for a resolution to the festering six-year conflict in Sudan's remote west.
Khartoum has been holding on-and-off discussions with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - Darfur's most militarily active insurgent organisation - in Qatar since February.
The discussions, also brokered by Qatari mediators, are supposed to pave the way to full peace talks, but have stalled on arguments over a series of confidence-building measures including the exchange of prisoners.
The spokesman for the Sudan government side, Al-Shartawi Ja'afar Abd-al-Hakam, told state radio the talks had reached stalemate following JEM's refusal to let other organisations and rebel groups take part.
JEM dismissed the accusation, saying Khartoum was refusing to honour an earlier deal to free JEM prisoners and improve access for humanitarian groups in Darfur.
"There is no point continuing when the government is adamant it will not go through with the goodwill agreement," senior JEM official Al-Tahir al-Feki told Reuters by phone from his base in Britain.
He said the talks would be adjourned for two months for the negotiating teams to consult with their leaders.
JEM has clashed with Sudan's army a number of times since the beginning of the talks, most recently over control of settlements in North Darfur, on a strategic road leading to the border with neighbouring Chad.
JEM was among mostly non-Arab rebels that took up arms against the Sudanese government in 2003, complaining that their region was being marginalised.
Khartoum mobilised its army and mostly-Arab militias to crush the revolt. Washington and some activists say genocide took place during the counter-insurgency, an accusation Khartoum denies. Estimates of the death count range from 300,000, according to UN humanitarian chief John Holmes, to 10,000 according to Khartoum.