Darfur truce signed, paving way for peace talks

Darfur’s most powerful rebel group and the Sudanese government on Tuesday signed a truce agreement after a year of internationally sponsored negotiations, raising hopes the bloody seven-year conflict could draw to a close.

Rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement announced the cease-fire would begin that night as the international sponsors of the talks announced a $1.5-billion development fund for the war-ravaged region.

The once bitter enemies, Mr. Ibrahim and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, shook hands and embraced after the signing.

The next challenge for the mediators will be getting the dozens of other rebel splinter groups to join the process as the arduous power and wealth-sharing talks begin. Previous cease-fires and partial peace deals were short-lived.

“This framework agreement is a very important step,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “We point out, however, that the road to peace still needs much patience and honest concessions from both sides.”

Mr. al-Bashir said he hoped to see a full peace agreement by mid-March and praised the presence of other rebel groups at the ceremony, saying recent steps by them to unify their fractious positions was “good news.”

“With this agreement, we take a major step toward ending the war,” he said.

One major rebel group that first launched the rebellion, the Sudan Liberation Movement, has shunned the peace talks. Although a shadow of its former strength as it has splintered, the group’s exiled leader remains popular among Darfur’s refugee community.

Abdelwahid Elnur, said the agreement in Doha is “ceremonial” and will follow the fate of previous partial peace deals. He warned that a “new conspiracy” is being woven against the people of Darfur, while violence and genocide continue.

“No one addresses the need of the people of Darfur on the ground … (particularly) the issue of security,” he said in a telephone interview from Paris.

The temporary cease fire between JEM, Darfur’s most able military rebel group, and the government was initialled last week in Chad, Sudan’s eastern neighbour which it has accused in the past of funding the rebels and providing them a safe haven.

Many believe that with Chad on board, the cease-fire agreement has a better chance of surviving.

The U.S. helped shepherd the process and on Monday State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the cease-fire agreement is an important step toward reducing violence in Darfur.

The temporary cease-fire would make it possible for the crucial national elections expected in April to take place in the vast, arid Darfur region as well.

The conflict in the remote western area started in 2003 when ethnic African rebel groups took up arms against the Arab-dominated government complaining of discrimination, lack of political representation and neglect.

The war left whole villages burned, 2.7 million people displaced and as many as 300,000 people killed, according to U.N. estimates. The conflict has left much of the population living in refugee camps.

El-Bashir is currently wanted for war crimes by an international court for the conduct of the counterinsurgency campaign.

In the last year, though, violence has ebbed and government forces have gained control of much of France-sized territory.

[original]

spotted by RS

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