DOHA (AFP) - Representatives of donor countries and aid groups began meeting on Sunday to endorse a strategy to rebuild Sudan's Darfur region, where a decade-long conflict shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.

"Peace time has begun in Darfur. A peace that will be protected by development, not by force," said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, opening the meeting attended by some 400 delegates.

The two-day conference was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal that Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital with an alliance of rebel splinter groups. It seeks support for a development strategy needing $7.2 billion (5.5 billion euros) for a six-year effort to move Darfur away from food handouts and other emergency aid, laying the foundation for lasting development through improved water facilities, roads and other infrastructure.

"This conference is a unique opportunity for Sudan and Darfur to turn the destiny of this conflict-ridden region," said Jorg Kuhnel, team leader of the UN Development Programme in Sudan.

The head of Darfur Regional Authority, Tijani Sissi, said the people of Darfur have "high expectations" from the meeting.

"We expect from this conference a political support for the (development) strategy, accompanied by material and technical support, to implement the reconstruction programme," he said.

The Doha meeting comes 10 years after rebels rose up in the western Sudanese region to seek an end to what they said was the domination of power and wealth among the country's Arab elites.

In response, government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia committed atrocities against civilians, prompting the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. "After 10 years of emergency assistance, it is time to start rebuilding communities in Darfur, and allowing them to start taking care of themselves again," Kuhnel told AFP. Britain on Sunday pledged at least £11 million ($16.5 million, 13 million euros) for Darfur annually over the next three years to help communities to grow their own food and for providing skills training to help people find work.

"It is not good enough to simply offer more handouts," Britain's international development minister Lynne Featherstone said.

"Our aid will help the poorest to get the help they need to stand on their own and make them better able to cope when crises occur."

The development strategy calls for agricultural upgrades, access to financing and other measures to help Darfuris support themselves under a more effective system of local government.

While the worst of the violence has long passed, rebel-government clashes continue along with inter-Arab battles, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes.

But the draft development strategy on the table in Doha says there will probably never be an ideal time for recovery, and delays can only make the process more difficult.

"We are aware that it is a difficult international environment to mobilise funds. But we believe that it would be a grave mistake not to seize this opportunity for the international community as a whole," said Kuhnel.

He said not all funds need to be mobilised immediately. "We need to be able to start and receive sufficient funds to build credibility of the process and the strategy," he added. Some 1.4 million people have been displaced by Darfur's decade-long conflict.

On Sunday, displaced people demonstrated in several camps in Darfur, demanding that security take priority, with some saying they would not return to their villages until peace is restored.

Major insurgent groups rejected the Doha pact, which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in January had seen only limited progress in its implementation.

A breakaway faction of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement on Saturday became the second group to join the peace deal. It signed a "final agreement" with the Sudanese government in Doha, official media reported.