Sunday, May 07, 2006
Sudan Update: Government Says UN Troops Can Enter Darfur Amid Peace Treaty
From Mohamed Osman in Khartoum
Sunday Herald, 07 May 2006
A spokesman for the Sudanese government has confirmed that United Nations peacekeepers will now be welcome in Darfur after a peace agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the main rebel group involved in the conflict.
Bakri Mulah, secretary-general for external affairs in the information ministry, issued the invitation on behalf of the Khartoum government after the agreement was reached on Friday in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
The Sudanese government initially rejected calls for UN peacekeepers to replace the thousands of African Union peacekeepers currently in Darfur.
“We heard the appeal of the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan [for UN peacekeepers to join those of the African Union] ... Now there is no problem,” a spokesman said.
The government of Sudan and the main Darfur rebel faction expressed hopes that three years of fighting could now come to an end. Tens of thousands of people have fallen victim to the conflict, which began in 2003. Rebels took up arms against the government-backed janjaweed Arab militia, claiming they were neglected and oppressed by the Arab-dominated central government.
The janjaweed responded with a campaign of arson, beatings and rape. Since then some two million people have been forced to flee their homes, including more than 200,000 who poured across the border into neighbouring Chad.
Two other rebel groups – a rival faction of the SLA and the smaller Justice and Equality Movement – are still adamently opposed to the deal and have rejected the peace accord, which is backed by the African Union, the United States, the UK, the European Union and the Arab League.
Optimism was muted by these rejections and by a historic failure to live up to agreements struck over two years of negotiations in the Nigerian capital.
In the refugee camps, hope that the conflict has ended was cautious yesterday, with many of those affected by the fighting insistent that UN troops must arrive before they will feel safe.
“I’m all for peace, but the deal has to be a realistic one or we’ll end up back home facing the same violence that caused us to flee in the first place,” said Adam Dingila, a community leader at the Gaga refugee camp in eastern Chad. Dingila has lost 15 members of his family to the conflict in Darfur.
The refugees living at Gaga, the newest of 12 camps strung across the region, had suggestions of their own about what they would like to see happen before they considered returning home.
“It’s not just a peace deal that we need. As refugees, we have our own problems. We had our animals and goods stolen, our houses burnt, we need to be reimbursed,” said 48-year-old Ali Yaya Omar, voicing a concern raised by many other refugees.
Others were still worried about janjaweed soldiers and were unconvinced about pledges to disarm them.
“What guarantee do we have of our security if we were to go back now? I want to see UN forces on the ground to protect us before I return,” said 30-year-old Abdelrahman Yaya.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York, American ambassador John Bolton welcomed the agreement but said that UN peacekeepers would become essential if the agreement were to hold.
“Recognising that this is a very positive development in Abuja, we now would like the government in Khartoum to follow through and give the necessary visas and other arrangements to allow the UN planners to go in,” Bolton said. He added that such a gesture would lead to the strengthening of the African Union force during the transition.
In Cairo, Arab League secretary- general Amr Moussa welcomed the agreement and urged the rebel groups who have opposed the deal to reverse their decision. Their refusual is seen as an illustration of the deep divisions between rival ethnic groups in Darfur which have yet to be addressed.
Many analysts doubt the sincerity of the government, because Khartoum has undermined several agreements in the past, and because not all the groups agreed to end the conflict.
“The other rebels [who refused to sign] would love to be spoilers. That is why the peace deal is only a first step and a robust force in Darfur is a must,” said Leslie Lefkow, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said yesterday that he would press Sudan to let UN planners into the region to prepare for deployment and urged donors to contribute humanitarian aid.
The United Nations was forced to halve its food aid to more than six million people in Sudan this month, half of them in Darfur, because donors came up with only one-third of the UN’s $746 million appeal this year.
Darfur conflict seen continuing despite pact
Sat May 6, 2006 5:52 PM EDT
By Tom Ashby
LAGOS (Reuters) - A peace deal signed by the largest rebel faction in Darfur and the Sudanese government will not end the 3-year-old conflict, but could bring more protection for millions of refugees.
The refusal of two rebel factions to join in the agreement on Friday, which marked the end of two years of talks in the Nigerian capital, illustrates that divisions between rival ethnic groups in Darfur have not been addressed.
Many analysts doubt the sincerity of the government, which holds the key to implementing the deal, because Khartoum has undermined so many agreements in the past.
"The government would make a mistake if they think that signing with one party will make peace," Hassan Abdallah Ahmed, deputy leader of Islamist opposition Popular Congress Party, told Reuters.
A faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) led by Minni Arcua Minnawi signed the peace deal with Khartoum under intense pressure from Western powers, who are exasperated by their impotence in the face of an onslaught on Darfur by government-backed militia that Washington called genocide.
Some commanders from a different SLA faction also signed, but rival factional leader Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur and another rebel group, Justice and Equality Movement, refused.
"Signing an incomplete deal guarantees that there will be no peace in Darfur and that suits the government," said John Prendergast, senior adviser to the International Crisis Group.
"I am sure the government will look to exploit divisions in the rebels to fuel fighting in Darfur. They are not interested in peace, only deflecting international criticism and pressure."
President Bush called the leaders of Nigeria and the Congo Republic to congratulate them on the peace deal, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
He told Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who hosted the talks, "We need to work together to transition with the United Nations."
Bush also thanked Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is chairman of the African Union. "He stressed that this is a significant step forward in a long process to end the conflict and suffering in Darfur and bring peace to the region," Perino said.
Rebels took up arms against government-backed Arab militias in 2003 over what they saw as neglect and oppression by the Arab-dominated central government.
The camel-riding Janjaweed militias embarked on a campaign of arson, looting and rape which drove 2 million people into refugee camps, and tens of thousands died.
"The Darfur conflict will not be resolved until there is a dialogue between all the ethnic groups in Darfur," said an analyst in Khartoum, asking not to be named.
"There is a real problem between nomads and urban groups," he said, adding that neighboring Eritrea and Chad were also fuelling the war.
PROTECTION FOR REFUGEES
Analysts were more optimistic about better protection for the millions of refugees, who are still exposed to attacks, and said the deal could speed the arrival of United Nations peacekeepers to the desert region the size of France.
Washington has been pushing to install U.N. peacekeepers with powers to intervene in the fighting, to replace a 7,000-strong African Union force which has proved too small and toothless to enforce a ceasefire.
Khartoum had insisted that a peace deal with the rebels was a precondition for any U.N. force.
"The other rebels (who refused to sign) would love to be spoilers. That is why the peace deal is only a first step and a robust force in Darfur is a must," said Leslie Lefkow, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The United States said it would ask Rwanda to increase the AU presence by 1,200 troops, while waiting for the U.N. to assume control of a stronger force before the end of this year.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would press Sudan to let U.N. planners into the region to prepare for deployment and urged donors to contribute humanitarian aid.
The United Nations was forced to halve its food aid to more than 6 million people in Sudan this month, half of them in Darfur, because donors came up with only one-third of its $746 million appeal this year.
Additional reporting by Opheera McDoom in London and Caren Bohan in Washington
UN aid chief due to visit Darfur
Top UN humanitarian official Jan Egeland has arrived in Sudan to review the situation in the Darfur region.
His five-day visit comes amid signs the government may allow a UN peacekeeping force into the war-torn area.
On Friday Khartoum and the largest rebel group in Darfur signed a peace deal. Two smaller rebel groups rejected the agreement, after talks in Nigeria.
The three-year conflict has killed about 200,000 people and left about two million homeless.
UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Mr Egeland is due to go to Darfur on Sunday, in the first visit by a UN official to the region since the peace deal was signed.
He is expected to visit southern Darfur, where fighting has broken out recently.
Mr Egeland will have talks with local leaders and visit refugee camps before heading to Khartoum on Monday for meetings with Sudanese officials, according to French news agency AFP.
He said prior to his visit that access for aid workers in Darfur was at its worst level in two years.
The trip came amid hopes Khartoum might accept a UN force to take over from African Union (AU) troops in Darfur.
Khartoum has said in the past it would only consider inviting in UN troops if a peace deal was reached.
But on Saturday the US welcomed Khartoum's "new willingness".
Citing comments by government representatives indicating they were now willing to accept the UN force, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said they viewed "this as... the first positive outcome from the Abuja peace agreement", according to the AFP news agency.
Earlier UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Khartoum to issue visas to his team of assessors so they could begin planning for the arrival of an international peacekeeping force to replace the 7,000 African troops later in the year.
The peace plan, brokered by the African Union, creates a temporary regional government for Darfur, in which rebels will take part.
DARFUR DRAFT PEACE PLAN
Pro-government Janjaweed militia to be disarmed
Rebel fighters to be incorporated into army
One-off transfer of $300m to Darfur $200m a year for the region thereafter Compensation for those forced to flee their homes
Regional government, if approved in a vote
The pro-government Janjaweed militia are to be disbanded and the rebels incorporated into the security forces.
Deadlines came and went in recent days, as diplomats exerted pressure on parties after all the rebels had rejected the original draft.
In the end the Khartoum government and the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) said they were willing to sign, despite reservations on both sides over power sharing and security.
But the smaller faction of the SLM would not budge, blaming a lack of trust in the security arrangements.
The smallest rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), called for fundamental changes to the document.
Its chief negotiator reiterated the rebels' demands for the post of vice-president in the Khartoum government and for Darfur to have a greater share of national wealth.
Aid organisations say the conflict has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
The rebels took up arms in 2003, accusing the government of discriminating against the black African residents of Darfur.
Pro-government Arab militia then launched a campaign, described as "genocide" by the US.
The Sudan government denies backing the Janjaweed militias accused of mass killing, rape and looting.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/06 21:54:41 GMT