Home | News    Thursday 11 January 2007

Sudan, Darfur rebels agree 60-day ceasefire

Jan 10, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Sudan’s government and Darfur rebels have agreed to a 60-day ceasefire and a peace summit sponsored by the African Union and the United Nations as steps towards stopping the violence in west Sudan, a visiting U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Sudan has also agreed to let foreign journalists visit Darfur after a two-month ban and to remove a requirement for exit visas for aid workers, one of the biggest bureaucratic obstacles to the world’s largest aid operation in Darfur.

"President (Omar Hassan al-)Bashir agreed to the start of a peace process that includes a 60-day cessation of hostilities," said U.S. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, visiting Sudan. The AU-U.N. peace summit is to be held no later than March 15.

Richardson said rebel commanders he had met in Darfur had also agreed to the ceasefire, which would begin on a date to be set by the United Nations and the African Union, which are jointly mediating Darfur peace efforts.

A joint statement by the Sudanese government and Richardson also said Sudan would not use military aircraft painted in white colours, usually reserved for humanitarians, and that Darfur rebel commanders could safely call a conference in the field monitored by the United Nations and the AU.

Experts estimate 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing the government of neglect. Khartoum rejects Washington’s description of the violence as genocide.

Struggling AU forces have been unable to stem the violence but Sudan rejects a U.N. Security Council resolution authorising 22,500 U.N. peacekeepers to take over the Darfur AU mission.

Richardson said that while no agreement had been reached yet to let in U.N. fighting troops, Bashir was not as hardline in the latest discussions as he had been last year.

"I note flexibility in his position," he said. "When I first was here five months ago he was dead set against any U.N. troops. Now there’s some flexibility as ... there are technical U.N. blue-helmeted troops that will be permitted."

"Not fighting troops ... but it is progress," he said.

Bashir wrote to former U.N. chief Kofi Annan in December saying he had agreed to a ’hybrid operation’ in Darfur, softening his position and allowing U.N. personnel to support the AU mission.

Richardson said details of a "third phase" of that hybrid operation were still unclear. Annan described it as a hybrid AU-U.N. force deploying up to 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers, but Khartoum insists it is just giving stronger support to the AU.

"Phase three is something that is still being negotiated or there are still details to be worked out," Richardson said. But the political process to maintain a ceasefire is more important, he added. "You can’t keep a peace without a peace."

(Reuters)