[dehai-news] (AFP): Sudan in 'turning point' deal with Darfur rebels

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Feb 18 2009 - 06:12:05 EST

Sudan in 'turning point' deal with Darfur rebels


DOHA (AFP) - Sudan and Darfur's most active rebel group signed an accord on
Tuesday paving the way for broader peace talks to end a conflict that has
claimed the lives of several hundred thousand people in six years.

"This is an important turning point in the Darfur conflict," said Qatari
Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, whose country hosted a week
of talks between the Khartoum government and the Justice and Equality

"I am very optimistic, as both sides are determined to end this conflict,"
he said at a media conference following the signing.

The Doha talks were the first contacts since 2007 between the government and
representatives of the JEM, which boycotted another largely abortive Darfur
peace deal in 2006.

"The accord stipulates that negotiations continue toward a final peace
agreement, in a period no longer than three months," Sudan's ambassador to
Qatar, Abdullah al-Faqiri told AFP.

JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim said at the media conference: "We will reach a
final and just solution with God's will, to end this war, which with God's
will will be the last war in Sudan."

He said that "in a sign of goodwill," the JEM would release a number of
prisoners from the government side. The official Qatar News Agency reported
that 21 prisoners would be freed by the rebels.

The Sudanese ambassador said that the agreement provided for an exchange of
prisoners in the near future.

JEM member Tahar el-Fakih told QNA: "The two sides have committed themselves
in principle to an exchange of prisoners, to be freed in successive groups
between now and the launch of talks on a framework agreement on peace in

The JEM leader said the group is keen to include all warring factions in the
negotiations, and called on Sudan's neighbours Chad, Egypt, Libya and
Eritrea as well as the international community to join the talks.

The pact was hailed as "a constructive step" by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who in
a statement issued in New York urged both the Sudanese government and JEM
"to move expeditiously to a cessation of hostilities and to a detailed and
explicit agreement on the scope of comprehensive and inclusive talks."

In Cairo, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said that Egypt wanted a
"precise" role in order to "create a unified platform for all Darfur rebel

The sponsors of the Doha talks -- Qatar, the United Nations, African Union
and Arab League -- stressed that they were preliminary and intended to pave
the way for a broader peace conference on Darfur.

The most heavily armed of the Darfur rebel groups, the JEM declined to sign
the 2006 peace deal inked only by the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni
Minawi and in May last year launched an unprecedented assault on the
Sudanese capital.

Minawi, who was in Cairo on Tuesday in his capacity as Sudanese presidential
advisor since signing the peace deal, questioned the new agreement's

"We don't know if the document signed in Doha is about a ceasefire or an end
of hostilities... It seems that the JEM is more interested in the question
of prisoners than in a ceasefire."

"Normally, an exchange of prisoners between the negotiating parties happens
after a ceasefire comes into effect," Minawi said.

According to the United Nations, 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2
million fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up
against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in February 2003.

Sudan, whose President Omar al-Beshir is facing a possible international
arrest warrant for alleged war crimes including genocide in Darfur, puts the
death toll at 10,000.

Tuesday's accord followed a long meeting on Monday between the heads of the
two delegations, Ibrahim for the JEM and Nafie Ali Nafie, a top aide to

Ibrahim had said at the start of the talks that broader peace negotiations
would only be possible if the government was prepared to accept the winding
up of allied Arab militias in Darfur and allow high-level rebel
representation in the central government.

He said confidence-building measures should include the expansion of aid
deliveries to rebel-held areas as well as the release of JEM prisoners.

In New York, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice described the tentative deal
as "potentially a modest first step" but added she saw "no linkage" between
it and the war crimes case against Beshir.

Last week, the New York Times reported that judges from the International
Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague had decided to issue an arrest warrant for
Beshir for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

However, an ICC spokeswoman told AFP: "At this moment, there is no arrest

Many Sudanese believe that formal charges against Beshir -- which would be
the first ever issued against a sitting head of state -- would plunge the
country into chaos.


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