Home | News    Friday 5 May 2006

Darfur peace plan in Jeopardy

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May 5, 2006 (ABUJA) — Two of three rebel groups battling the Sudanese government for control of the country’s Darfur region resisted intense international pressure on Friday to sign an accord aimed at ending a conflict that has claimed at least 180,000 lives.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged all countries to press the warring parties to reach agreement but warned the international community has an obligation to protect civilians in Darfur, by force if need be.

Abdelwahid Mohamed al Nur of the main rebel Sudan Liberation Army walked out of the negotiations before dawn Friday saying: "We are not going to sign."

The action came shortly after a similar declaration from the small Justice and Equality Movement, while a splinter rebel faction said it needed time to consult with colleagues in Sudan.

The decisions came after days of negotiations that culminated in an all-night session with the African Union, rebels and envoys from the United States, Britain, the European Union and the Arab League. Deadlines have been extended twice since Sunday and Thursday’s session went five hours beyond the midnight time limit.

Sudan’s government was not involved because it already had agreed to the initial proposal drafted by AU mediators, and negotiators were waiting for the rebels to agree.

"These are all opportunities, but it requires leadership on the part of the movement that, frankly, is in question," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters.

Zoellick said the meeting would resume at 9 a.m. with at least one rebel movement. He didn’t name the group but it likely is the Sudan Liberation Army splinter faction of Mini Menawi, considered the most formidable of the rebel fighting forces but which commands an area with a much smaller population than al Nur’s.

The last-ditch diplomatic efforts appeared doomed to failure, but Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Republic of Congo and current head of the 53-nation African Union, said "It has not yet ended."

Annan reminded world leaders that at September’s U.N. World Summit they had agreed that if a state could not protect its citizens — or was the perpetrator of violence — "the international community, through the (Security) Council, has to take action, and, if need by, by force." He spoke in an interview on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS television.

The time had come to redeem that pledge, said Annan. The United States has accused Sudan’s government of genocide in Darfur, while the U.N. has called the conflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Darfur rebels earlier had cautiously welcomed U.S.-drafted proposals to salvage the peace agreement.

Four pages of last-ditch revisions to the 85-page peace plan drawn up by African Union mediators offered concessions to the rebels on integrating fighters into the Sudan armed forces, compensation for war victims and power-sharing.

But as the session went well beyond the deadline, it became clear the rebels were unhappy.

Al Nur didn’t elaborate on his position as he walked out.

But the Justice and Equality Movement said that the main sticking point was all three groups’ demand that a Darfur representative get the post of second vice president.

"We decided not to sign it unless changes are made," said the movement’s chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugod.

Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur, a vast region about the size of France, erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 with rebels demanding regional autonomy. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Janjaweed militias upon civilians, a charge Sudan denies.

Sudan’s government has shown increasing flexibility since the United States and Britain sent top envoys to the talks, indicating Wednesday that it could accept the U.S.-drafted changes.

"We hope that the Americans’ suggestion will be agreed upon," government spokesman Abdulrahman Zuma told the AP.

Revisions to the peace plan made available to AP called for 4,000 rebels to be integrated into Sudan’s armed forces and another 1,000 into the police force. In addition, 3,000 rebels would be given training and education at military colleges. The initial proposal mentioned no figures.

The new deal would give the rebels 33 percent of all newly integrated battalions nationwide, and 50 percent in areas to be agreed, notably Darfur.

It also called for a speedy disarmament of the Janjaweed militia that is accused of some of the worst atrocities in Darfur — an issue Zuma said Khartoum was willing to agree to. The initial proposal was for the militia to be confined to barracks.

Other significant changes included giving the rebels 70 percent of all legislators’ seats in the three Darfurian provinces. It would be a major concession from Sudan’s government but still does not meet rebel demands for the second vice presidency instead of the proposed special adviser to the president, which would be the No. 4 instead of No. 3 position in the Khartoum government hierarchy.

(ST/AP)

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