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US Pushes for Darfur Peace Deal Before Latest Deadline Arrives


The pressure on Sudan's warring parties in the western Darfur region is growing as a third deadline approaches Thursday to reach a peace deal proposed by the African Union to end more than three years of violence. VOA's Catherine Maddux examines the details of the proposed agreement and what some experts say are its flaws.

The peace agreement proposed by the African Union is more than 80 pages long and attempts to resolve the most contentious issues in the Darfur conflict, such as disarmament and power sharing between rebels and the Khartoum government.

But according to Susan Rice, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, the foundation of the accord appears to be weak.

"And I think in contrast to the longer and much more detailed Comprehensive Peace Agreement related to the North-South conflict in Sudan, this agreement has been relatively hurriedly put together and does not go into exhaustive detail on accountability and implementation of some of the key things - like how to accomplish disarmament of the Janjaweed, which the Sudanese government has promised on numerous occasions and failed to fulfill," Rice says.

Susan Rice also says the current plan does not adequately spell out revenue and power sharing details, and as such, is asking Darfur rebels to accept the status quo. She is suspicious about Khartoum's willingness to sign onto one of the very first versions of the deal.

"The rush to reach conclusion of the agreement is causing great consternation, particularly as the Sudanese government so quickly embraced the details of the accord and the rebels have been far more reluctant," Rice says. "If you recall that the Sudanese government had to have its arm broken to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it makes you wonder what must be in the African Union Darfur agreement that they found so attractive that they were ready to commit to sign on first sight."

The draft agreement calls for the disarmament of the pro-government Janjaweed fighters, held largely responsible for war crimes against civilians that the United States calls genocide. It also allows for rebel forces to be absorbed into Sudan's national security forces.

Also under the proposed deal, the Sudanese government is to give millions of dollars to develop the impoverished Darfur region - a key reason rebels took up arms against Khartoum more than three years ago.

While the Sudan government was ready to sign the deal, rebel groups held out, sparking the unexpected entrance of top U.S., British and African diplomats to the peace talks, being held in Abuja, Nigeria.

Rebels are pressing for a faster timetable to disarm the pro-government Janjaweed militiamen. They also want more of their ranks to be integrated into the Sudanese army.

Rebel leaders also want to unify the three states that make up Sudan's Darfur region, with some autonomy built in - not unlike what former southern rebels were able to get in their peace deal ending 20 years of war with the Sudanese government. Another rebel demand calls for political representation of a unified Darfur region.

Suliman Baldo is the director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group. He says rebels believe it is absolutely crucial to have a strong representation to ensure implementation of whatever deal is made with the Sudanese government.

"The rebel groups are insisting this is necessary to preserve the interests of the region and whatever peace agreement is reached is observed," Baldo says. "Because the influence of an authority of a regional government would be necessary to ensure compliance from the central government and from the armed groups in Darfur itself. This is a status that Khartoum is not going to accept easily because it chips away at its control over power."

Whether the current deadline is met or extended, Susan Rice of the Brookings Institution warns that one important element must not be forgotten during the negotiations.

"I think all sides need to be mindful of the fact that a negotiated agreement to the underlying conflict does not - in and of itself - result in the halting of the genocide. So, there is a separate imperative in addition to a negotiated solution to halt this genocide," Rice says. "And I think it is very important that the international community does not lose sight of the fact that since the Sudanese government has not responded to pressure and incentives to end the genocide, that the only way to accomplish that is actually to put a maximally effective African and international force on the ground under U.N. auspices to protect civilians and halt the genocide."

There are about seven-thousand African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. Although it is widely accepted they cannot be expected to keep the peace with their few resources, the Sudanese government has repeatedly refused to accept a proposed U.N. force to augment African troops.