Friday, February 18, 2005

Sudan has two weeks to withdraw troops from seized areas in Darfur

Associated Press news Feb 18 says Sudanese troops have two weeks to pull out of positions they seized after the government signed an oft-violated truce with rebels in Darfur, officials said today:

The move is intended to ease tensions in the region and help the adversaries negotiate a settlement without distractions from the battlefield, said Adam Ali Shogar, spokesman of the rebel SLA.

Khartoum has agreed to meet the deadline and its forces will be replaced by African troops deployed in the region, said head of the commission that monitors the April truce. The commission includes representatives of Sudan's government, the two main rebels groups in Darfur, Chad, the AU, UN, EU and the US.

"The government agreed to withdraw its troops in one week and the commission will verify that in two weeks," Shogar told The Associated Press. "The countdown began yesterday."

The commission did not fix the date for the next round of peace talks as expected. Mediators will consult with all sides to ensure that they are fully committed to negotiating a political settlement before fixing the date.

Three previous rounds of talks and the cease-fire agreement have failed to calm Darfur, which plunged into violent conflict in February 2003.

The most recent round of Darfur peace talks began Dec. 11, but rebels boycotted meetings with government delegates two days later, alleging a new government offensive. The talks broke down within weeks.

The commission also rejected Sudan's plans on disarming the dreaded pro-government militia, known as the Janjaweed, because the scheme was too vague, Abdallah said.

He said Sudan agreed to present a new plan for the disarmament of its allies, who are accused of carrying out the bulk of atrocities in Darfur.

On Thursday, the Janjaweed attacked Duma - some 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur - burning four villages in the raid that continued Friday, Shogar said. "I don't have any details about casualties and the number of people forced to flee the villages, but more than 150 houses have been burned," Shogar said.

Note: the above report makes no mention of the Darfur rebel group JEM who, when the talks broke down in December, refused to return to the negotiating table until the UN took over as mediators, in place of the AU. Also, note this excerpt from a Reuters report today, Feb 18:
SLA spokesman Adam Ali Shogar said the Sudanese government had to withdraw from all the areas it took after September 8, the date of an oft-violated ceasefire agreement, and respect a no-fly zone before the rebels would consider a return to the negotiating table.

"Two days ago we had a sighting of a government Antonov in North Darfur State, so it is obvious that the government is not respecting its commitments. When the government delivers on these commitments then we will set a date for talks," he said.
If true, this proves the Sudanese government, after its recent bombing of Darfur, has already broken its promise made February 5, 2005 that no more Antonov planes would fly over Darfur.
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African mission to check ceasefire in Darfur

Turkish Press report Feb 18 confirms the joint ceasefire Commission on Darfur is to send a fact-finding team to verify positions occupied by the opposing sides with a view to mapping out a separation plan and ensure the truce is being honoured.

The move was announced late Thursday at the end of a meeting of the commission headed by Chadian President Idriss Deby and the head of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare.

The commission decided "to send a team on the ground in Darfur to verify the positions occupied by the forces present there, with a view to drawing up a plan to separate these forces and also to verify the effectiveness of the ceasefire declaration by the parties," the meeting's final communique said.
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Sudanese official says trip of UK envoy to Eritrea "important"

Here is another interesting development reported by BBC Monitoring Services 17 Feb:

Sudan news says a political adviser of the president of Eritria believes that the forthcoming visit of the UK's Special Representative for Sudan, Dr Alastair McPhail, to Eritria would be important.

He told Suna "As soon as we finished with the Nairobi talks, we were hit by another crisis at the UN Security Council over Darfur which has had an impact on the progress of the talks with the rebels. Therefore, we definitely can do without another concocted problem in the eastern region".

Further reading: Eritrea wants to repair aircraft, air defence systems in Belarus report by BBC Monitoring Services.
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Darfuris still flooding refugee camp - aid workers

Reuters report Feb 18 confirms hundreds of refugees are still flooding into the sprawling, overcrowded Kalma camp in Darfur as they flee attacks by soldiers and militias, aid workers said on Thursday.

"Last week we received 600," said one humanitarian aid worker, who declined to be named. "In November, December and January, there was a flood of people coming into the camps from a combination of attacks by military and militias," said Philippe Schneider, an aid worker with a UN agency.

The camp, built for 60,000 people, is now home to more than 150,000.
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UN Council deadlocked over court for Darfur trials

Reuters report Feb 18 reveals for the first time, 12 of the 15 Security Council members said they favoured sending perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur to the new International Criminal Court in The Hague, which the Bush administration opposes. No formal vote was taken.

The meeting came after Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy representative, told Reuters the EU might fail in its bid to refer the Darfur crisis to the ICC because of Washington's opposition and may have to settle for the Tanzanian option.

The ICC was established by 120 countries in 1998 to "ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished", but the US has consistently been suspicious of the tribunal, accusing it of not being answerable to nation states.

Further reading at Financial Times Feb 17: Solana voices doubts on Darfur case going to ICC.

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