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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

CNN News:

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Breakaway factions from two Darfur rebel groups that rejected last month's peace accord will endorse the agreement on Thursday, the African Union has forecast.

They will sign on to the May 5 peace deal in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, A.U. spokesman Noureddine Mezni said Wednesday.

In a high-level meeting in Addis on Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council and the African Union agreed that a U.N. force should take over peacekeeping in Darfur and that the A.U. force now in the conflict-driven region of western Sudan must be reinforced quickly.

Representatives of both the Security Council and the A.U. stressed the Sudanese government had to approve the transfer, and they were optimistic that it would. But Khartoum is reluctant to accept a U.N. force.

U.N. and A.U. officials said they envisaged a U.N. force in Darfur of about 10,000 personnel. The existing A.U. force of about 7,300 has been unable to stop the fighting in Darfur, where more than 180,000 people have died and another 2.5 million have been displaced in the past three years.

Spelling out what is expected Thursday, Mezni said: "An important portion of political leaders and field commanders from the Darfur movements is due to sign the declaration of accession." The declaration will commit the factions to an immediate cease-fire and the terms of the May 5 agreement.

The African Union expects the leaders to return to Darfur and encourage the people on the ground to accept peace and cooperate with the A.U. mission.

"This accession will not solve every problem in Darfur, but it's a big step in the right direction," said Sam Ibok, the chief A.U. mediator for Darfur.

Reports from the United Nations and the A.U. indicate that violence against civilians in Darfur has doubled since the May 5 peace deal.

The A.U. force was attacked six times in May -- twice as many times as in April -- and raids on civilians also doubled over the same period, the A.U. said. In 21 recorded incidents, at least 50 unarmed people were killed. An A.U. translator was stoned to death because refugees thought he worked for the Khartoum government.

"Right now, our peacekeepers can't even enter the (refugee) camps, the environment is too hostile," Ibok told The Associated Press.

Although the main faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement signed the May 5 peace with the Khartoum government, a splinter faction lead by Abdulwahid Elnur rejected it. So did the smaller rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement.

Elnur's support for the accord was deemed crucial owing to his following among the Fur -- one of the main tribes in Darfur, which means "land of the Fur" -- who make up a large portion of the refugees.

Ibok said that Elnur's chief negotiator for the May 5 accord as well as several important field commanders from both the SLM and JEM will sign the accession declaration.

The weeks since May 5 have also seen continued clashes among armed groups. Five Sudanese soldiers died in clashes and an A.U. soldier was killed in a militia ambush. At least seven militia members were killed, and the Sudanese army allegedly killed four rebels from Chad.

The A.U. has threatened sanctions against those who reject the peace and said it would soon meet "to consider the necessary follow-up measures" against them.

Ibok said Wednesday that the violence has subsided slightly in recent days.

"It's too early to say if this is the calm before the storm, or a sign that the peace agreement is beginning to bear fruits," he said.

The U.N.'s World Food Program director, James Morris, warned Wednesday that a shortage of aid for Sudan could threaten the both the Darfur peace and that signed in southern Sudan last year as tension would increase as the risk of famine and malnutrition rose.

He said the WFP had been forced to cut back food distribution because it has received only half the funds required for Sudan, which is currently the organization's largest operation in the world.

"We must give everyone the minimum that they need. Not to do so is a terrible betrayal," Morris told reporters after a five-day trip to the country's violence-plagued east, south, and west.

Decades of low-level clashes in Darfur over land and water erupted in early 2003 when rebel groups of ethnic Africans rose up against the Arab-led government in Khartoum. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Arab militias known as the janjaweed who have been accused of sweeping atrocities against the African population. Khartoum denies any involvement.

The U.N. Security Council delegation visited Khartoum on Tuesday to push the government to accept the replacement of the A.U. force by a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

A leading government opponent, Hassan Turabi, said Tuesday he suspected the government was resisting U.N. peacekeepers because the world body has vowed to prosecute all those involved in war crimes in Darfur.

"They are afraid of the U.N.'s efficiency. The government fears that too many of its allies will end up in an international criminal court," said Turabi, who is believed to wield influence with the JEM rebels.

After the Security Council met Sudan's president and other officials on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Lam Akol said the government had "been assured" that any U.N. role in Darfur would be discussed step by step.

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