Hopes Rise after Darfur Deal

DOHA ~ Six bloodthirsty years later, hope has finally arisen for an end to the tragedy of Sudan’s Darfur as the region’s strongest rebel group indicated a readiness to establish a foundation for peace.

And as the United Nations hailed a deal on confidence-building measures reached by Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the US and France said it should have no bearing on the war crimes case against Sudan’s president.

French envoy Jean-Maurice Ripert described the Qatari-brokered accord as “a starting point in the right direction” and welcomed signs of greater cooperation from Khartoum both with respect to the deployment of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur and in its ties with neighboring Chad.

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.”

“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 JEM.

“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 said.

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.

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 Darfur.”

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 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.

According to the UN, 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.

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.

The ICC is expected to make a decision soon on whether to issue an arrest warrant for Beshir after its chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in July accused Beshir of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

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