Sudan, Darfur rebels sign truce
International aid of $1b promised
CAIRO - Darfur’s most powerful rebel group and the Sudanese government signed a truce yesterday after a year of internationally sponsored negotiations, raising hopes the bloody seven-year conflict could draw to a close.
Rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement announced the cease-fire would begin last night as the international sponsors of the talks announced a $1 billion development fund for the war-ravaged region.
Once bitter enemies, Ibrahim and Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, shook hands and embraced after the signing. The ceremony, hosted by Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, was attended by US, UN, African, and Arab representatives, among others.
The next challenge for the mediators will be getting the dozens of other rebel splinter groups to join the process as arduous talks begin on a deal to share power and the country’s wealth. The Justice and Equality Movement is primarily a military movement without the popular base of other rebel groups.
Previous cease-fires and partial peace deals have been short-lived.
“This framework agreement is a very important step,’’ Ibrahim said. “We point out, however, that the road to peace still needs much patience and honest concessions from both sides.’’
Bashir said he hoped to see a full peace agreement by mid-March, and he praised the presence of other rebel groups at the ceremony, saying recent steps by them to unify their fractious positions was “good news.’’
The UN estimates that 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced since ethnic African tribesman in the vast arid western Darfur region took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government, complaining of discrimination, lack of political representation, and neglect.
In the last year, violence has ebbed and government forces have gained control of much of the France-sized territory.
The framework agreement, which will guide the upcoming talks, was initialed last week in Chad, Sudan’s eastern neighbor, which it once accused of harboring Darfur rebels.
The end of the long-running animosity between Sudan and Chad - which sponsored the truce only days after declaring the end to its long proxy war with Sudan - could be the deciding factor in this agreement’s longevity.
Bashir, meanwhile, faces a tough international challenge. He is the first sitting head of state to be wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court, where he stands accused of war crimes committed in Darfur.
A settlement in Darfur would defuse criticism abroad and boost his legitimacy at home ahead of crucial April national elections - the first multiparty elections in the country in decades. Bashir is also running for reelection.
The rebel group that first launched the rebellion, the Sudan Liberation Movement, has shunned the peace talks. Although a shadow of its former strength as it has splintered, the group and its exiled leader remain deeply popular among Darfur’s refugee community.
That leader, Abdelwahid Elnur, dismissed the agreement in Doha, calling it ceremonial.
The United States helped shepherd the peace process.