Darfur rebels hold out for better deal despite international pressure
ABUJA, Nigeria – Darfur rebels have bickered among themselves, violated a cease-fire and even been accused of attacking peacekeepers. Now they risk being seen as standing in the way of a peace agreement before a Tuesday deadline.The U.S. State Department said Monday that it was sending its No. 2 official, Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick, to Nigeria in an attempt to break a stalemate in peace talks involving Sudan’s government and the rebels in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.”You have made many sacrifices in your struggle for your people,” African Union mediator Salim Ahmed Salim told the rebels in a statement Monday. “Now is the time for you to show leadership and make the compromises necessary for peace, for the sake of the people of Darfur.”African Union mediators who proposed the peace deal had originally demanded the rebels and Sudan’s government accept it by Sunday. As negotiations bogged down in the Nigerian capital, they extended talks for 48 hours until midnight Tuesday.The government said it was ready to sign, but the rebels rejected the agreement, saying it didn’t guarantee enough political power for Darfur or provide enough detail on implementation.”We are not ready to sign until the Sudanese give concessions to our demands,” said Ahmed Hussein, a spokesman for one of two rebel factions. In rejecting the African Union draft, he said he was speaking on behalf of both his Justice and Equality Movement and the other main rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement.The talks in Abuja have stretched out over two years without a treaty, as fighting in Darfur has killed tens of thousands and forced millions more from their homes. Both sides have been repeatedly accused of violating a cease-fire, including attacks on African Union peacekeepers.The rebel groups are fighting the government for more control over their region, though they have also battled each other for territory in Darfur. The Justice and Equality Movement is closely linked to Islamic fundamentalists. The Sudan Liberation Movement – which started fighting for more governing autonomy for Darfur in February 2003 – split in November, and both factions have sent representatives to the talks.”Probably at the mega level they’re fighting the same government for the same reasons, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll all agree on what the solutions are,” said John Ashworth, who advises church peace groups on Sudan.Still, he said the rebels may have cause to worry about the eagerness of the government to sign the African Union deal.”I’m not at all surprised that the rebels are not accepting the peace deal. Why should they? It’s never going to be implemented,” Ashworth said. “The government is just going to undermine it every way they can.”He said the Sudanese government has followed through in name only on similar agreements in the south of the country, where another war ended with a peace agreement last January.African Union mediator Salim said his team tried to strike a compromise on rebel demands for autonomy.The peace agreement would create a transitional authority for the region including rebel representatives, and proposes that the people of Darfur vote by 2010 on whether to create a single geographical entity out of the three current Darfur states.A unified Darfur would presumably have more political weight, and the rebels had demanded its creation by presidential decree.The rebels had also demanded that a third vice president, from Darfur, be added to the national government. The compromise draft called for the president to include a Darfur official, initially nominated by the rebels, among his top advisers.Salim said the expert would have “all the attributes of a vice president, except the name,” and noted Sudan’s constitution, drafted under the treaty that ended the north-south war, permits only two vice presidents.In accepting the draft, the Sudanese government agreed to disarm militia it is accused of unleashing on Darfur civilians, commit millions of dollars to rebuilding a region devastated by poverty and war, and compensate victims of the fighting, Salim said.The government has said it may accept U.N. peacekeepers to help resolve the crisis in Darfur once an agreement is signed.Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 when the rebels took up arms. The central government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab tribal militias known as Janjaweed to murder and rape civilians and lay waste to villages. Sudan denies backing the Janjaweed.The State Department’s move to send Zoellick to Nigeria followed weekend demonstrations in Washington and other U.S. cities to demand that the U.S. government act more decisively to end the suffering in Darfur.A high-level Sudanese official, Vice President Ali Ousman Tahar, left Abuja on Monday, a government spokesman said.”But it doesn’t mean that everything has failed. We are optimistic that a deal will be reached by midnight, tomorrow,” said Abdul-Rahman Zuma. “A lot of people are putting pressure on the other parties to sign the agreement.”Sudan’s chief negotiator, Majzoub Khalifa, speaking to reporters in Khartoum by phone Monday, said that rebel reluctance to sign the agreement was “regrettable,” but declared that Khartoum would nevertheless begin immediately following the plan.—Associated Press correspondent Mohamed Osman contributed to this report from Khartoum, Sudan.
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