Sudan signs peace deal with rebels over Darfur

By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor 
Published: 06 May 2006

Sudan's government and the main rebel group fighting
over Darfur's meagre resources have signed a
power-sharing peace deal. It is hoped the milestone
agreement will help end a conflict that has left more
than 180,000 people dead and two million homeless. 

But the celebrations were muted last night because two
small rebel groups rejected the deal. Further major
obstacles must also be overcome before the worst
humanitarian crisis in the world today can be solved.
The talks had been held in the Nigerian capital,
Abuja, and were mediated by the African Union.

The breakthrough in the negotiations to end the
three-year conflict came after Britain and America,
who have been most active in attempting to end the
ethnic cleansing of the black African population by
militias alleged to be supported by the Islamic
government, dispatched senior envoys to the peace

The US Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick,
said: "This can be a very important day of hope and
opportunity for the poor people of Darfur who have
been suffering, but it is only a step." Britain's
International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, was
also in Abuja.

The accord provides for a ceasefire and for the
disarmament of the notorious Janjaweed Arab militia,
allied to the Khartoum government, who burned down
villages and expelled the local population as the
central authorities moved to crush a rebellion over
land and grazing rights.

Although the rebels failed to win a place in central
government, the agreement guarantees rebel factions
the majority in Darfur's three state legislatures. It
also contains provisions for the integration of rebel
forces into the national army; a protection force for
civilians; establishment of a reconstruction and
development fund; and provisions to compensate war

The conflict sent 200,000 refugees across the border
into Chad, threatening to destabilise further an
already fragile government. Chadian rebels who tried
to topple President Idriss Déby last month were
accused of preparing their revolt in Darfur.

Yesterday's peace deal was agreed by the main rebel
Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), led by Minni Minnawi,
although a rival SLA faction and the smaller Justice
and Equality Movement (JEM) refused to sign up, mainly
over political demands.

The African Union's chief mediator, Salim Ahmed Salim,
hailed the pact as "a big day for the people of
Darfur", but added that he would have been happier if
all rebel factions had signed. "In realistic terms,
the agreement between the government and the SLA Minni
is a major development. The two of them working
together can make a major contribution to a return to
peace and normalcy in Darfur," he said.

Mr Zoellick said in Abuja that the pact "has to be
followed through on the ground by the government and
the [rebel] movement, with support from the African
Union mission and, we hope, from a UN force."

The Sudanese government has been resolutely opposed to
a UN force, which could take over from the
under-resourced African Union soldiers who were
supposed to be monitoring a ceasefire. However,
Sudanese leaders had recently modified their position
by saying that a UN force could come in once a
political agreement had taken place.

Western diplomats said that yesterday's deal could put
further pressure on Khartoum to accept a UN
peacekeeping force.

The UN Security Council was being briefed last night
by the African Union on the peace agreement. But the
humanitarian crisis in Darfur still needs to be

The UN is facing a shortfall in its appeal for funds
for the displaced population, and the security
situation remains dire. The continuing violence, and
obstruction by the Sudanese government, means that
access for relief agencies is at its worst level for
two years.

The UN's chief humanitarian co-ordinator, Jan Egeland,
said yesterday: "I first spoke to the UN Security
Council on Darfur two years ago, calling it ethnic
cleansing of the worst kind. Today, I could simply hit
the rewind button on much of that earlier briefing." 


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