April 30, 2006 (ABUJA) — Sudanese rebels from Darfur province threatened Sunday to withdraw their support for an African Union-brokered peace deal which the Khartoum government has pledged to sign despite "reservations".
- SLA Secretary-General Minni Arcua Minnawi speaks during the SLA unity conference in Haskanita, in Sudan’s eastern Darfur province October 29, 2005. (Reuters).
The groups — part of a conflict which has killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.4 million in three years of fighting — raised their concerns at the 11th hour with an AU deadline for an accord set to expire later Sunday.
"I don’t think we are going to accept the AU proposal. We have not got enough time to go through the document," said Saisaledin Haroun, a spokesman for the main faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM).
He said the SLM had received the Arabic version of the draft accord only on Saturday.
"We are not satisfied with the AU document," Haroun added, adding that the SLM would coordinate with another rebel outfit, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), to forge a "common position" by the end of the day.
He said key requirements for peace in the troubled western province were lacking in the AU proposal, including security arrangements such as the disarming of the government-backed Janjaweed and other militias.
Other "reservations" raised by the rebels were that the AU document did not consider giving the vice presidential political slot to the Darfur region, or adequately resolve other power-sharing and wealth-distribution issues.
"All these are either lacking or unclear in the AU peace proposal," Haroun said.
JEM chief negotiator Ahmed Tugod said his group had "resolved not to sign the AU peace agreement", although he said this could change after its talks with the SLM.
"The document falls short of the expectations of our people in Darfur. We cannot be able to defend it before them. Whatever we cannot defend, we do not want to be part of it," he said.
The Sudanese government for its part said Saturday it was ready to sign the deal to bring speedy peace to Darfur despite reservations over some of its contents.
"The government is prepared to sign the (AU) document even with our reservations. Our reservations are important, but they are not as important as to spoil the peace process," a spokesman for the Khartoum delegation told reporters in Abuja, where the signing was to take place.
Senior UN officials have been highly critical of the Sudanese government in recent months, accusing it of continuing to support Arab militias known as Janjaweed blamed for a raft of abuses in Darfur.
An underfunded and undermanned African Union force, sent to Darfur in August 2004, has been unable to staunch the bloodshed.
US President George W. Bush on Friday pressed Khartoum to bring peace to war-torn Darfur, which his government has termed a case of genocide.
A draft of the proposed AU peace agreement, apparently in English, had been given to the rebel groups on March 10.
AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni said that the bloc’s mediation team "has not received any reply to the peace proposal either from JEM or from SLM".
"Our position on the issue is very clear. We are sticking to the deadline we set, which has the support of the United Nations," he said.
"We in the AU are mediators. The parties to the conflict are going to be the implementors of the peace accord. We have done our job and we are still maintaining contacts with them on the matter," he said.
The UN secretary general’s special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, and his AU counterpart Baba Gana Kingibe are expected to hold "intensive consultations" Sunday with the parties with a view to pressurising them to sign the peace deal, a member of the mediation team said.