Darfur Peace Jeopardized by Rebels Intransigence

The African Union's year-old drive to bring peace to the devastated Sudanese region of Darfur was in crisis on Friday, May 5, after rebels proved intransigent once again to sign a peace accord with Khartoum.

Darfur Peace Jeopardized by Rebels Intransigence

Despite massive pressure from international mediators, both rebel groups at peace talks in Abuja defied the third in a series of 48-hour deadlines and rejected a proposed deal with the Khartoum government to end their war, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP0.

"It was rough and tough. I'm not encouraged. I think we've reached a point of reality," the chief AU mediator at the talks, Salim Ahmed Salim, told reporters at Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's official residence in Abuja, the current venue of the peace talks.

"We've one consideration in mind, that is the plight of the people of Darfur. It will be a bad day for the people of Darfur if, after all the efforts made and days spent, the (rebel) movements are still wanting," he warned.

Salim said more meetings would resume later in the day after a stormy overnight session, but sounded far from optimistic about how the negotiations could proceed.

Darfur, an arid desert region of western Sudan the size of France or Texas, erupted into civil war in early 2003 when armed local movements rebelled against the central government to demand autonomy from Khartoum.

The war has caused at least 180,000 deaths and left 2.4 million people homeless.

This week senior international envoys, including US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, came to Abuja to strongarm the warring parties into a peace deal which would allow humanitarian aid to flow and elections to be held.

The Western diplomats fine-tuned the draft accord, pushing the government to offer better guarantees on the disarmament of the Arab militias Janjaweed and on recruiting former rebels into the national armed forces.

Separately, the Austrian presidency of the European Union appealed to the rebels to agree to the deal, which has already been accepted by the Sudanese government, saying failure to strike an accord would be "irresponsible."

UN humanitarian relief coordinator Jan Egeland also warned that a huge aid operation in the devastated western region of Sudan could be jeopardized.

Intransigence

"It's time for the leadership of the (rebel) movements to step forward and to help their people," said Zoellick. 

Following high-profile Western intervention, the Nigerian leader and the current AU chairman President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo personally hosted Thursday's overnight session in a bid to persuade the parties to accept a deal.

But Mohammed Tugod of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said the draft peace accord failed to answer his group's demands for Darfur's three states to be united into a single autonomous region.

"We clearly explained the reasons why this document failed to take into consideration the opinions of the movement and why the African Union mediation failed also to come out with a reasonable document," he said.

"We came to the conclusion that it's extremely difficult for us to accept this kind of document unless fundamental changes have been made ... therefore we decided not to sign it," he told reporters in Abuja.

Abdelwahid Al-Nur, one of the leaders of Darfur's other rebel movement the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), said simply: "We need the document to be improved upon. We are not going to sign it."

Zoellick was clearly angered by the rebels' intransigence.

"We've made the parties realize that their people are dying. They need to think over this. It's time for the leadership of the (rebel) movements to step forward and to help their people," he told reporters.

"These are great opportunities which good leadership must take, but this leadership in the movements is in question," he said.

Tugod said a peace deal should include a larger provision to bring leaders from Darfur into the Sudanese federal presidency.

As drawn up by the AU, the proposed peace plan would call for a referendum in Darfur to decide whether to create a single administrative region, but only after fighting has halted and national elections have been held.

The US is leading a western drive to replace 7,000 African Union troops in Darfur with UN peacekeepers, a matter slammed by Khartoum as a pretext to internationalize the problem.

Sudan has said it will accept UN peacekeepers only if there is a deal in Abuja. If the talks fail, political analysts caution there will be even fewer options over how to handle Darfur.

Darfur has also become a major rallying cry inside the United States over the past few months with Hollywood icons like George Clooney using their power star to focus attention on the region, where Clooney said the first genocide of this century was taking place.

A UN report ruled out in February last year a US claim that Khartoum had pursued a policy of genocide in the troubled province.

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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