The Sudanese government accepted an African Union-drafted Darfur peace deal on Sunday and said any outstanding disagreements on issues such as security and power-sharing could be negotiated later.
The AU had set Sunday as a deadline for the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels to wrap up negotiations that have dragged on for two years while the conflict in the vast western region of Sudan has escalated.
After all-night discussions at a no-frills hotel on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital Abuja, the government announced it had accepted the AU’s terms.
“The government ... wishes to confirm its decision to formally accept this document and its readiness to sign it,” said a statement from Majzoub al-Khalifa, head of the government’s negotiating team at peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria.
“The government wishes to confirm its full commitment to implement the agreement in good faith. The delegation is also fully convinced that any difficulties that might come up in the implementation stages can be resolved by consensus between all the parties.”
No response from rebels
The statement was the latest in a series of diplomatic moves to try to convince rebels to drop some of their demands and rely on conflict resolution mechanisms embedded in the agreement.
The rebels have yet to respond officially to the 85-page document but several of their leaders have complained that it does not meet their key demands.
On security, diplomats say the rebels want more favorable terms for a planned integration of some of their forces into the Sudanese army.
Apart from security, their main problem with the document is that it does not meet their demands for Darfur to get a new post of Sudanese vice president and a new regional government. They have other objections on issues such as compensation.
The rebels say they are talking amongst themselves to seek a consensus on whether to sign. Decision-making is an arduous process for them as they are split into two movements and three factions with a history of infighting.
The AU started meeting with one of the Sudan Liberation Army factions on Sunday to hear their reaction to the document. Minni Arcua Minnawi, the leader of the other SLA faction, said his group would give its position to the AU later in the day and was not ready yet to say what that was.
The other group, the Justice and Equality Movement, was expected to give a separate submission.
JEM’s chief negotiator, Ahmed Tugon, said the government’s statement “is an attempt to increase pressure on the movements and it clearly indicates that this document favors the position of the government.”
Negotiations night and day
The Chida International Hotel at the epicenter of the negotiations was packed with diplomats and Sudanese representatives. The atmosphere in the hotel was charged as pressure built to reach a deal.
Meetings involving all the parties continued through the night and into the day. Sudanese and diplomatic sources said SLA rebels and the government had held direct talks.
Several previous deadlines have passed without any apparent impact on the discussions. But this time AU mediators said they had nothing more to achieve by listening to the parties’ positions. If the sides reject this draft, the AU Peace and Security Council was expected to decide on a new strategy for the peace process.
Rebels took up arms in early 2003 in ethnically mixed Darfur, an arid region the size of France, over what they saw as neglect by the Arab-dominated central government.
Khartoum used proxy militias drawn from Arab tribes to crush the rebellion. The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people while a campaign of arson, looting and rape has driven more than 2 million from their homes into refugee camps in Darfur and neighboring Chad.
All sides have continued fighting despite a 2004 cease-fire, according to the AU which has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur.
The U.S. government and civil society have recently sought to increase pressure on Khartoum to end the violence.
Worries over humanitarian situation
President Bush said “genocide in Sudan is unacceptable” and endorsed a series of “Save Darfur” rallies taking place across the United States on Sunday, organized by a coalition of more than 160 religious and humanitarian groups.
Aid groups say increased fighting in Darfur has made it impossible to deliver food and medicine to tens of thousands of refugees in Darfur and in camps across the border in Chad.
U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who is now in Khartoum, will visit the South Darfur capital Nyala on Monday and the West Darfur capital El Geneina on Tuesday, her spokesman said.
“She has clearance to go to Darfur,” spokesman Jose-Luis Diaz told Reuters.