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Expert Questions Viability of Darfur Peace Accord


The implementation of the peace accord to end more than three years of war in Darfur, Sudan, appears to be stumbling, amid accusations of cease-fire violations. Some analysts have expressed concern the deal contains holes that make implementation, and, ultimately, peace in Darfur, very difficult. VOA's Catherine Maddux spoke to one such expert, who observed the negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria.

The May 5 peace accord was mediated by the African Union, following nearly two years of off-and-on talks between the Sudanese government and Darfur rebel groups.

The agreement raised hopes of bringing an end to more than three years of war in the vast, arid western Darfur region. The war has killed an estimated 200,000 people and uprooted some two million others from their villages. But questions remain about how well the accord can be implemented, for instance, how to disarm the government-backed Arab militias, known as the janjaweed, held responsible for the most serious atrocities, including genocide.

Colin Thomas-Jensen, a researcher at the International Crisis Group who spent time at the Abuja talks, says the Darfur accord is built upon three major issues: security, power-sharing and wealth-sharing.

" The final deal has fairly detailed security arrangements for the disengagement of forces, disarmament," said Colin Thomas-Jensen. "There are loose provisions for the disarmament of the Janjaweed, that is still something that needs to be worked out. As well as the integration of some of the [rebel] SLA forces into the Sudanese armed forces and the police. On the wealth-sharing, there is money from the central government for rehabilitation. There's a small pot of money for compensation."

Thomas-Jensen says, for the rebels there will be some power-sharing on the state level. Only one rebel group out of three - the Sudanese Liberation Army - signed the deal, along with the Khartoum government. In doing so, the rebels got one big prize, although not precisely what SLA leader Minni Arkou Minnawi pressed for.

"At the level of the presidency, there is something called a senior assistant to the president, which is a new position created by this agreement, which essentially has the function of a vice president, but is not called a vice president," he said. "Finally, there is established a transitional authority for the region, a sort of quasi-regional government that will stay in place for the next few years to administer some of the region-wide programs for rehabilitation with the money that they have received from the central government."

A big issue at the negotiating table was a return to Darfur's status in 1994, when it was a single region with its own government - in effect, trying to reverse the break up of Darfur into three states. Thomas-Jensen says that move completely diluted the power of Darfur's largest ethnic group, the Fur. Khartoum pushed to keep the region split.

Thomas-Jensen says, to their credit, African Union mediators tried to meet the parties half-way. They offered rebels regional authority, but on a temporary basis, to oversee the implementation of the peace deal. However, to appease rebel demands, the final deal also built in a referendum on turning Darfur back into a single region.

For Thomas-Jensen, one of the accord's most serious weaknesses is how to disarm the warring parties. Rebels, including SLA rebels who ended up agreeing to the provision, are not happy.

"Specifically, the timing for the disarmament of the Janjaweed," noted Colin Thomas-Jensen. "The government wanted these processes of disengagement and disarmament of rebels and Janjaweed forces to occur concurrently. The rebels, Minni especially, felt that the Janjaweed should be disarmed completely, or, at least, concrete steps taken towards disarmament before he [the rebel leader] began his own process of standing down."

But that issue, and many others in the deal, have been left to be decided later by special commissions. And, as such, timelines are vague, which leaves open the possibility of more fighting. Already, there have been reports of sporadic fighting and accusations of attacks.

Another potential problem is, the deal envisions a newly unified national army, with former rebel fighters standing alongside their former enemy combatants, the pro-government Janjaweed.

For researcher Thomas-Jensen the most serious concern is enforcement.

"The biggest issue is, in this atmosphere of chronic mistrust, with multiple armed groups roaming around, how do you - with the agreement in place - how do you actually implement it? How do you ensure that those parties that signed live up to their commitments? And the only way that that can really happen is with a large multi-national presence on the ground, with a mandate to protect civilians and with clear guidelines as to what are the punishments for failure to comply with the terms of the agreement," he said.

The United Nations has already begun taking step to deploy such a peacekeeping force to enhance the 7,000 or so African Union troops already in Darfur. But it can only be deployed with the permission of the Khartoum government, which has yet to approve the proposed mission, saying it wants more input into the size and mandate of the force.

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