George Osodi  /  AP
Members of a faction within the Sudan Liberation Army walk out of peace talks Friday  in Abuja, Nigeria.
updated 5/5/2006 1:12:47 PM ET 2006-05-05T17:12:47

Sudan's government and the main Darfur rebel group signed a peace plan Friday, marking major progress in an internationally backed effort to end the death and destruction in western Sudan.

Two rebel groups, though, rejected the accord backed by the African Union, United States, Britain, the European Union and the Arab League and skipped the signing ceremony in a hall at a Nigerian presidential villa. Optimism was muted by that and a history of failure to live up to agreements struck over two years of negotiations in the Nigerian capital.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged all countries to press the warring parties to reach agreement but warned the international community has an obligation to protect civilians in Darfur, by force if need be, to end a conflict that has claimed at least 180,000 lives.

The small Justice and Equality Movement was the first to walk out overnight. Abdel Wahid Nur, of a faction of the main rebel Sudan Liberation Army, followed before dawn Friday saying: “We are not going to sign.”

But another faction, led by Nur’s rival Minni Minnawi, agreed to sign despite reservations believed linked to rejected rebel demands for Sudan to have a vice president from Darfur, said AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni. The issue of the vice presidency was believed the main reason the other factions had rejected a deal.

Mezni also said the Minnawi faction was willing to resume direct talks with the government; the parties have been negotiating through intermediaries in recent days.

All-night session
Days of negotiations culminated in an all-night session with the African Union, rebels and envoys from the United States, Britain, the European Union and the Arab League. Deadlines have been extended twice since Sunday and Thursday’s session went five hours beyond the midnight time limit.

Map: Sudan's Darfur region

Sudan’s government was not involved because it already had agreed to the initial proposal drafted by AU mediators, and negotiators were waiting for the rebels to agree.

“These are all opportunities, but it requires leadership on the part of the movement that, frankly, is in question,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters.

The last-ditch diplomatic efforts appeared doomed to failure, but Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Republic of Congo and current head of the 53-nation African Union, said “It has not yet ended.”

Annan: Force may be necessary
Annan reminded world leaders that at September’s U.N. World Summit they had agreed that if a state could not protect its citizens — or was the perpetrator of violence — “the international community, through the (Security) Council, has to take action, and, if need by, by force.” He spoke in an interview on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS television.

The time had come to redeem that pledge, said Annan. The United States has accused Sudan’s government of genocide in Darfur, while the U.N. has called the conflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Darfur rebels earlier had cautiously welcomed U.S.-drafted proposals to salvage the peace agreement.

Four pages of last-ditch revisions to the 85-page peace plan drawn up by African Union mediators offered concessions to the rebels on integrating fighters into the Sudan armed forces, compensation for war victims and power-sharing.

But as the session went well beyond the deadline, it became clear the rebels were unhappy.

Large-scale violence
Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur, a vast region about the size of France, erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 with rebels demanding regional autonomy. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Janjaweed militias upon civilians, a charge Sudan denies.

Sudan’s government has shown increasing flexibility since the United States and Britain sent top envoys to the talks, indicating Wednesday that it could accept the U.S.-drafted changes.

“We hope that the Americans’ suggestion will be agreed upon,” government spokesman Abdulrahman Zuma told the AP.

Revisions to the peace plan made available to AP called for 4,000 rebels to be integrated into Sudan’s armed forces and another 1,000 into the police force. In addition, 3,000 rebels would be given training and education at military colleges. The initial proposal mentioned no figures.

The new deal would give the rebels 33 percent of all newly integrated battalions nationwide, and 50 percent in areas to be agreed, notably Darfur.

It also called for a speedy disarmament of the Janjaweed militia that is accused of some of the worst atrocities in Darfur — an issue Zuma said Khartoum was willing to agree to. The initial proposal was for the militia to be confined to barracks.

Other significant changes included giving the rebels 70 percent of all legislators’ seats in the three Darfurian provinces. It would be a major concession from Sudan’s government but still does not meet rebel demands for the second vice presidency instead of the proposed special adviser to the president, which would be the No. 4 instead of No. 3 position in the Khartoum government hierarchy.

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