Darfur rebel leader signs peace plan

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Friday, May 5, 2006

Agreement Signed

The Sudanese government and Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), led by Minni Minnawi, signed a peace deal to end three years of conflict. Two smaller rebel groups rejected it despite last-minute efforts to get their support.

The deal, which followed intense talks in Abuja, capital of Nigeria, calls for the disbandment of rebel forces and the disarmament of the pro-government Janjaweed militia. The conflict had killed about 200,000 and left about two million homeless. The accord, initiated by the African Union, was reached after two years of negotiations.

"I accept the document with some reservations concerning the power sharing," Mr Minnawi said. The SLM are the largest rebel group in the Darfur region of Sudan. One of his officials told that the SLM wanted more seats in parliament but had agreed to the deal to end the suffering of the people in Darfur.

Opposition

Two smaller groups said they were not happy with the terms of the deal. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said it wanted fundamental changes to the document. The group's chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugod, reiterated the rebels' demands for the post of vice-president in the Khartoum government, to have the allocation of 6.5 percent of Sudan's national income to a Darfur development fund, and for greater representation in national institutions.

"We decided not to sign it unless fundamental changes are made to this document, it did not meet a series of key demands." Mr Tugod said.

The other faction of Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) likewise refused to sign it. "We need the document to be improved upon," the group's spokesman Abdel wahid Muhamed El Nur said.

Mediators

Rebel negotiators faced intense pressure to accept the amended deal, as diplomats from the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union struggled to find common ground. The initial deadline for the peace talks was Sunday at midnight, but was extended thrice. The peace plan was prepared by mediators from the African Union and was amended after the rebel groups did not agree at an early draft. International negotiators, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, said the deal was the best hope for peace in Darfur.

New Plan

The new plan decided to:

  • Disarm completely Janjaweed militia by mid-October.
  • Place restrictions on the movements of the paramilitary Forces and requires them to be reduced in size.
  • Establish buffer zones around IDP [internally displaced persons] camps and humanitarian assistance corridors, into which rebel forces and Sudanese Armed Forces cannot go.
  • Define the principles for integration of the rebel forces into the Sudanese armed forces and police.
  • Integrate 4,000 former combatants into the army.
  • Integrate 1,000 into the police.
  • Support 3,000 through education and training programmes to assist in the civilian reconstruction and development of Darfur.
  • Provide strong rebel forces representation in the leadership positions of the Sudanese armed forces.
  • Give the rebel movements the fourth-highest position in the Sudanese government of national unity; senior assistant to the president and chairperson of the transitional Darfur regional authority.
  • Establish democratic processes for the people of Darfur to choose their leaders and determine their status as a region.
  • Have a popular referendum by July 2010 to decide whether to establish Darfur as a unitary region with a single government.
  • Hold Elections at every level of government not later than July 2009, in accordance with the interim national constitution.
  • Grant the rebel movements chairmanship and control (at least eight of 10 seats) in the transitional Darfur regional authority. This body is responsible for implementation of the peace agreement in Darfur.
  • Allocate to the rebel movements 12 seats in the national assembly in Khartoum.
  • Allocate to the rebel movements 21 seats in each of the Darfur state legislatures.
  • Award to the rebel movements one state governor of Darfur, and two deputy state governors.
  • Allocate to the rebel movements senior positions in state ministries.
  • Guarantee the rebel movements key posts in local governments.
  • Create a fund for Darfur reconstruction and development.
  • Contribute $300 million initially and then $200 million a year for two additional years to Darfur fund.
  • Call for a joint assessment mission - modelled on the one done for southern reconstruction after the Comprehensive (North-South) Peace Agreement.
  • Determine the specific reconstruction and development needs of Darfur.
  • Establish a commission to work with the UN to help refugees and displaced persons return to their homes.
  • Create a commission to provide compensation to victims of the conflict.

Recent History

Observers said failure to reach an agreement would have been disastrous for the people of Darfur, who have suffered through three years of conflict that has claimed 200,000 lives and driven more than 2 millions from their homes. The conflict began in the arid and impoverished region early in 2003 after a rebel group began attacking government targets, claiming the capital Khartoum was neglecting the region. The rebels said the government was oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.

On the other side, Arab Janjaweed militias, drawn from Arab tribes, had been conducting a campaign of destruction with alleged help from the government. To flush out the rebels they had allegedly been targeting innocent civilians. More than 90 villages were burnt and destroyed, millions have fled their destroyed villages, with many heading for camps near Darfur's main towns. But there was not enough food, water or medicine. The Janjaweed patrol outside the camps and Darfurians said the men were killed and the women were raped if they venture too far in search of firewood or water. Many women were reported being abducted by the Janjaweed and held as sex slaves for more than a week before being released. Some 200,000 had also sought safety in neighbouring Chad, but many of them were camped along a 600km stretch of the border and remain vulnerable to attacks from Sudan. Chad was worried that the conflict could spill over the border. Its eastern areas have a similar ethnic make-up to Darfur.

Darfur, which means land of the Fur, has the history of tensions for many years over land and grazing rights between the mostly nomadic Arabs, and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa communities.

Human rights groups said that genocide was taking place, though a UN investigation team sent to Sudan said that while war crimes had been committed, there had been no intent to commit genocide. In April 2006, the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions against four Sudanese nationals accused of war crimes in Darfur that include two rebel leaders, a former air force chief, and a Janjaweed militia leader.

Sudan's government denied being in control of the Janjaweed and President Omar al-Bashir called them "thieves and gangsters". After strong international pressure and the threat of sanctions, the government promised to disarm the Janjaweed. But so far there was little evidence that this had been implemented. Thousands of extra policemen were deployed but the refugees had little faith in the Sudanese security forces. Some 7,000 African Union troops had slowly been deployed in Darfur on a very limited mandate. Experts said the soldiers were too few to cover the whole area, and the African Union said it did not have the money to fund the operation for much longer. Sudan was unhappy with suggestions that the UN take control of the peacekeeping mission.

Many aid agencies working in Darfur were unable to get access to vast areas because of the fighting. They said a peace agreement is vital before the rainy season begins in June when planting of food crops must be completed. United Nations officials, meanwhile, warned that they would be unable to provide food and other aid to the more than two million people living in refugee camps unless the security situation improves.

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Sources

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